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San Mateo high school teacher pens Junipero Serra book

September 17, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Christian Clifford teaches theology at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo. He has written a short book about the soon to be canonized Franciscan friar, titled “Saint Junipero Serra: Making Sense of the History and Legacy.”

The book is already on the shelves at the bookstore in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra on Sept. 23, Clifford said.

Fifteen years of presenting Blessed Serra to his students, who have heard over and over again that the missionary was instrumental in the destruction of the Native American way of life in California, prompted him to write the book, said Clifford. But the catalyst was a hike along the Devil’s Slide Trail in Pacifica in 2014, where he came upon a County of San Mateo Parks sign that read: “Missions used newly baptized natives as captive labor.” After a prolonged back and forth correspondence with the country parks department the sign was replaced – with one about birds, he writes.

“He’s become the symbol of the oppressor. And it’s inaccurate. It’s dishonest,” said Clifford, who graduated from Serra High School in 1989. He described his book, in part, as “sharing my personal quest to know Junipero Serra.” Among the points that Clifford makes: the encyclical of Pope Paul III in 1537 stated that slavery and abuse of native peoples was contradictory to the Catholic faith.

The book’s foreward is written by the pastor of St. Boniface Church in San Francisco, Franciscan Father Tommy King, who was a missionary for 11 years in Latin America. “Amid a new wave of criticism against Serra for his style of evangelization, Christian Clifford shows in his work that those of us who want to faithfully live the Gospel have a lot to learn from Serra. He clearly points out that Spanish colonialism must not be confused with the evangelization techniques of Serra and his brother Franciscan missionaries in New Spain in the 18th century,” Father King wrote.

Blessed Serra “would persevere against all odds to bring Western civilization to this corner of the world,” said Clifford. “Governor Jerry Brown nailed it when he called Serra ‘a very courageous man, and one of the innovators and pioneers of California.’”

For more information, saintserrabook.com.

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