Junipero Serra Statue Vandalized Days After Sainthood Declared

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Junipero Serra is pictured on a banner hung at his canonization by Pope Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. (Credit: CNN)

Days after Pope Francis elevated Father Junipero Serra to sainthood, vandals struck the Carmel Mission where the remains of the controversial missionary are buried, toppling statues and damaging gravesites.

The vandals, who police say acted sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning, splashed paint throughout the cemetery and basilica and scrawled “Saint of Genocide” on a headstone.

Carmel police Sgt. Luke Powell said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime because the vandals targeted “specifically the headstones of people of European descent, and not Native American descent.”

Serra, an 18th century friar who brought Catholicism to California, has been criticized by many for his harsh treatment of Native Americans. Despite protests, Pope Francis canonized Serra on Wednesday in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., saying the friar “sought to defend the dignity of the native community,” and suggesting his legacy has been misinterpreted.

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