Ahead of the Pope’s visit to the United States in September, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus says that “America must have a culture of life in its future and that is a principal responsibility for every Catholic.”
Carl Anderson said this when he spoke with ZENIT on Saturday, while at a day of reflection on the life of Blessed Junípero Serra (1713-1784). The reflection day was held at Rome’s Pontifical North American College.
Blessed Junípero Serra, called the Apostle of California, will be canonized by the Pope during his visit, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The reflection day considered the life and legacy of the future canonized saint, as well as addressing the black legends linked to him and the wider Spanish missionary movement during the time of the colonization.
ZENIT: Why is it important to reflect on the life of Blessed Junípero Serra?
Anderson: Well it’s very important because Junípero Serra is a legacy of Catholic missionary activity and evangelization in North America. So we have to honor his contribution, his legacy. We have to make sure that the story, the record is straight and that he does not become a victim of prejudice.
ZENIT: [The missionaries are accused of being cruel to the native peoples of the Americas.] But you have alluded to Native Americans calling Junípero Serra ‘El Santo’ (the Saint) and how various elements disprove negative accusations, could you elaborate?
Anderson: Well Junípero Serra was very dedicated to our Lady of Guadalupe so you have to understand what that means in the context of his life and work. That is, she comes, she appears as a native person. She says, ‘I am your mother. I have the honor of being your mother… I have come to protect you.’
So this is really what defines his missionary and his evangelization work among the native people. He has great respect for them. He washes their feet, prepares food for them. And so, this is the record of an inculturated evangelization that we have to understand, defend, and bring to the future in our own work as missionary disciples.
ZENIT: In fact, he protected the Native Americans.
Anderson: Yes, that was a big part of his work. A bill of rights. Archbishop [Jose] Gomez [of Los Angeles] gave the long list of rights that Junípero Serra tried to uphold for the Native Americans.
ZENIT: Could you speak about the black legend?
Anderson: Yes. Well, historians recognize the phenomenon they call the black legend, which [in this case] is most easily understood as a propaganda campaign against Spain by English-speaking people and historians. We are all familiar with the animosity between England and Spain, the Spanish Armada, etc. But this has come down through history in a way that prejudges Hispanics and Spaniards as being particularly cruel, more cruel than other peoples. But the historic record does not support that and in fact, if we look at the historic record, the treatment of the native people in the southwest was much, much better, much more humane under the Spaniards than it was after the Spaniards left. Because it’s very clear that Spain understood the justification for being in the New World as being evangelization, and the material aspect was secondary. So they approached the Indians as people who were worthy of evangelization, worthy of conversion, worthy of baptism, and therefore were baptized brothers and sisters in Christ.
ZENIT: As Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, can you speak about how the canonization of Junípero Serra is particularly relevant to the Knights?
Anderson: As we know, the Knights of Columbus were founded basically by Irish immigrants to the United States. One of the original purposes was to protect the Church, protect Catholics from prejudice and discrimination. Early in our history, we promoted historical studies on the contributions of various minority groups in the United States. And here we are with the Hispanic heritage and defending the legacy of our great Spanish missionaries who built so much for the country: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Corpus Christi, Santa Fe. These are all Catholic-founded cities. We need to understand the sacrifice and devotion that led to this kind of development in our country. That’s part of the Knights of Columbus’ mission.
ZENIT: Also, in your role, could you speak about what the Pope’s visit means for you, the Knights, and America?
Anderson: Yes, looking forward to the Holy Father’s visit … This can be very, very important for us. To help us with Catholic identity, to help us with Catholic mission, and to help us to continue the mission of the evangelization of our culture. America must have, must have, a culture of life in its future and that is a principle responsibility for every Catholic.
And I am sure the Holy Father is going to lead us in that mission, of greater respect, of greater commitment, greater solidarity with those who need the faith and our material support.