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After Wednesday, California Will Have Its Own Saint in Capitol

The statue of Junípero Serra overlooks members of Congress and the media in Statuary Hall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Battles over historic symbols can get heated, as Congress learned this summer in the Confederate battle flag fight . But a little controversy isn't stopping Pope Francis from weighing in on the debate over one of California's key historical figures — a frontier-era priest whose statue is prominently displayed in the U.S. Capitol.  

On Wednesday, the pope will canonize Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest — revered by Catholics and reviled by some Native Americans —  who founded nine of the state's 21 missions in the 1700s and brought Catholicism to the new world. To supporters — including the pope — he's a saint, despite the church's subjugation at the time of California's native peoples. Some historians say it's unfair to judge Serra through the lens of modern morals and standards. When indigenous tribes were viewed as subhuman by Spanish settlers, Serra saw their "intrinsic dignity," said one supporter.