The archbishop of San Francisco performed a short exorcism ceremony Saturday outside a Catholic church where protesters had earlier toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra, saying the ceremony was intended to drive out evil and defend the image of Serra. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone performed the ritual before some 150 supporters before holding a special Mass inside St. Raphael Catholic Church in San Rafael. The AP reports that despite characterizations in popular culture, exorcism is typically a solemn ceremony to evict the devil or evil spirits from an area or person. Cordileone said prayers in Latin, remarking that “the experts in the field tell me that Latin tends to be more effective against the devil because he doesn’t like the language of the church.”
The 18th-century Franciscan priest and father of the California mission system has long been praised by the church for bringing Roman Catholicism to what is now the western US, but critics highlight a darker side to his legacy. In converting Native Americans to Catholicism, critics say he forced them to abandon their culture or face brutal punishment. Depictions of Serra have been protested and vandalized over the years, and Pope Francis’ decision in 2015 to elevate him to sainthood reopened old wounds. More recently, protests focusing on the historical struggle of Black and Indigenous people led activists to topple statues of Serra in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. San Rafael police say they arrested five people on vandalism charges for knocking over the statue on Monday, leaving just the feet attached to the base. The statue is being repaired and will be returned.
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