Vandals deface statues of California saint Serra canonized by Pope Francis

Chief Tony Cerda (left) of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe of the Ohlone Nation and Rudy Rosales, Tribal Chairperson of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Natio, stand next to a statue of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, C
Chief Tony Cerda (left) of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe of the Ohlone Nation and Rudy Rosales, Tribal Chairperson of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Natio, stand next to a statue of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, California, in this file photo taken on Sept 15.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Days after Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra, vandals defaced two statues of the Franciscan friar and gravestones at the California mission where he is buried, police said Monday.

The vandals acted overnight Saturday to Sunday, using paint and marker pens to mar two statues of Serra along with headstones of other European settlers buried on the grounds, Sergeant Luke Powell of the Carmel-by-the-Sea police department told AFP.

Powell said the vandals also splattered paint or used markers on the doors of the Mission San Carlos basilica and mausoleum.

"The vandalism specifically targeted either statues or signs of Serra or other individuals of European descent," Powell said. "Because of that, we are going to investigate it as a hate crime." Serra brought Christianity to California in the 18th century, setting up the first Spanish missions there and giving the Roman Catholic Church a firm foothold in the region.

But Native Americans see his legacy as murderous and have expressed outrage at the pope proclaiming Serra a saint during his historic visit to the United States last Wednesday.

Many accuse the friar of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of indigenous people who perished in California's missions, many of illnesses brought by European settlers.

Powell said the weekend attack appeared related to the canonization.

He said at least one other statue of Serra was vandalized in the town last week.

Serra's name appears widely in California, on street signs and schools and even on a mountain - the 1,785-meter Junipero Serra Peak in Monterey County.