Elias Castillo at Berkeley Revolution Books speaks on:

The Monstrous Guy the Pope Made a Saint

September 28, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following is from readers in the San Francisco Bay Area:

A Cross of Thorns, book cover

As Pope Francis announced the canonization of Junipero Serra, Revolution Books in Berkeley hosted Elias Castillo, author of A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions—a searing and well-researched indictment of the history of the Spanish and Catholic presence in what is now California during the period 1769 to 1821.

Castillo’s remarks and his book paint a horrific portrait of the genocidal monster the pope has now elevated to what the church considers a “saint”:

“Serra already had it in his mind that his goal was to baptize as many Indians as possible for the glory of god and if they died, well that was a cause for rejoicing. They went to heaven.”

Castillo quoted Serra who spoke of a deadly plague among the Indians as a happy harvest: “In the midst of all our little troubles, the spiritual side of the missions is developing most happily. In [Mission] San Antonio there are simultaneously two harvests, at one time, one for wheat, and of a plague among the children, who are dying.”


“In the initial phases of the missions, they were running out of corn. So the friars decided—they had cows—they fed them cow’s milk. They [the Indians] were lactose intolerant. The friar refused to let them go outside and hunt for their food. Dysentery and a lot of diseases developed in the missions. There were a lot of deaths. The friars said, we need some more workers, some slaves. So they would go out into the surrounding villages and harangue them [the Indians], tell them that if they didn’t join them then they would come back and burn the villages.”


“The friars decided that by god, we are going to keep these Indians pure. And by god they did. They took all the women, girls over 10 years old, unmarried girls, and every night they would lock them up. At every mission that had a room that they called the convento, which is Spanish for convent. But it wasn’t a convent, it was a room, with some pallets lining the walls and the Indian women had to sleep there with maybe a bucket or two for the restroom, and that was it!”


In his book, Castillo quotes an observer who was part of a French scientific expedition who described the way Serra and the missions treated women: “They are never whipped in public but in an enclosed and somewhat distant place so that their cries may not excite a too lively compassion, which might cause the men to revolt.” (A Cross of Thorns, p. 107)


“The statistical records of the missions show that 62,000 Indians died in the missions. The friars were meticulous in record keeping because every year they had to make a report of how many Indians died, how many Indians were born, how many Indians were punished, and any other thing they could. So the figure may be in the hundreds of thousands because of the contamination of mission Indians carrying diseases and contaminating others.”

“There were approximately 300,000 Indians [when Serra arrived] in California, in the coastal area. By the 19th century, of 300,000 there were only 15,000 left. Most of them had died in the missions, and in the post-mission era when the Mexicans and the gold rush era came in and committed genocide.”


Castillo pointed out that even in his own times (during the Enlightenment, when the rising capitalist class was promoting science to a certain extent):

“Serra was ... a monstrous guy. He was a mad man. He was stuck in the 12th or 10th century, during the Enlightenment where the new philosophies regarding human rights and the new forms of government were arising and where the divine rights of kings - where god placed the king and therefore he was under god and was all powerful - were being eroded.”


As revcom.us says:

Junipero Serra, not a saint, not even a sinner—a genocidal maniac for Christianity and Empire.




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