"Where would the County of Ventura be today without Junipero Serra? The establishment of the missions and presidios-and the subsequent expansion of colonial settlements-created new and dynamic relations and communities within and between colonists and native people across California," Elewaut told CNA.
"Fruits, vegetables, wineries, flora, and fauna that we cherish today are due to the Mission era initially established by St. Junipero Serra in Alta California."
The priest welcomed support from county residents and those outside the county "to pray and to speak in defense of St. Serra," he said.
"It is important that all who do so with respect and courtesy and keep focused on this topic and not inject other agenda, no matter how worthwhile they may be. Lack of respect for County and City officials in communication nets no good," he told CNA.
"As Catholics and Christians and all people of faith, we need to honor the dignity of everyone while speaking our thoughts."
Elewaut said the local Catholic community, including many young adults, is "unified in the effort to save the good name and evangelical ministry of St. Junipero Serra. The priest has received comments from people " appalled that Serra is being wrongfully portrayed." Local Catholics have responded to the spate of anti-Serra behavior with prayerful support and recitations of the Rosary.
Supervisor Linda Parks, however, backed removing the Catholic saint's image "because it is well understood that it was an oppressive time when the Spaniards came and abused Native Americans," she said.
"I know that Father Serra is certainly objectionable to many people," said Parks, who was also critical of "obsolete" images on the seal referring to atomic energy and oil drilling.
"I don't think of them when I think of Ventura County," she said. "The whole thing is from a bygone era and needs to be updated to better represent Ventura County."
Parks preferred "the beauty of our countryside and the farm hills and the ocean and the pier," or images of the California condor, The Ventura County Star reports.
Another board member, Supervisor John Zaragoza, said he has not yet taken a position on Serra's image on the seal. For him, the redesign is a possible "re-marketing."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
"I know that Father Serra is on the seal, but I have not really paid too much attention to it yet to tell you the truth," said Zaragoza.
Supervisor Kelly Long said she would "entertain" the decision to remove Serra if the county's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, "feels that it's an important step."
"It's appropriate to have a community process to redesign the logo to recognize the new sensitivity that the majority of our society is feeling towards respecting our diversity," said Long.
County spokeswoman Ashley Bautista said the redesign could incorporate community opinion. She said the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which has some 22 members, would provide an update on the planned redesign of the seal at the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. However, the seal was not listed on the board agenda for that day.
Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, is almost evenly split between non-white Hispanics, who make up about 44.7% of its population, and Hispanics, who make up 43.2%. Native Americans make up about 1.9% of the county's 846,000 people, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some members of the Chumash people are among the objectors to Serra. In conversation with these critics, Elewaut reached an agreement to move the statue of Serra from the grounds of Ventura City Hall. He did this, he said, "in part to seek reconciliation among the descendants of the Chumash First Peoples and to a greater degree to keep the statue from being destroyed.