The third and final miracle necessary for Father Junipero Serra to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church was confirmed this week at the annual convention of the National Association of Public Relations (NAPR) at its Madison Avenue headquarters in New York.
The result of the College-of-Cardinals-style vote, conducted by the 100 members of the association, was revealed by the ritualized blowing of smoke.
"It's a miracle that a guy with Father Serra's rsum could even be considered for sainthood," summarized Fawn Allover, president of the NAPR chapter in Orange County, where the opportunities to capitalize on Serra's connection with the Mission San Juan Capistrano are expected to be incalculably numerous and lucrative. "All of us are humbled by the holy spin that has been applied to the old friar's life for more than two centuries. What an inspiration!"
Serra is the Franciscan padre who founded California's mission system in the second half of the 18th century. In the name of saving the souls of the indigenous people, Serra's chain of adobe plantations extended the Spanish empire, exacerbated European settlement and exploitation of California, and introduced diseases that all but eradicated the local Native Americans and their culture.
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"Another man in other circumstances might have been reviled as a cruel phony who cloaked his hunger for power in the righteousness of his clerical order," noted Allover, whose own clients include several local evangelicals. "At the least, he might have been ridiculed for his narrow-minded naivet."
But not Father Serra. Though his death in 1784 was treated like the passing of the 13th apostle, he was more like the grim reaper. Native American populations in California decreased from about 300,000 to less than 100,000 (some estimates go as low as 30,000) during the mission era. In 1934, Serra was nominated for sainthood. By 1985, he was declared venerated. In 1989, after the confirmation of a rather piddling miracle—the healing of some nun with lupus—Serra reached the penultimate step toward sainthood by being formally "beatified."
Now Serra's incredible public-relations coup should put him over the top—and unleash another promotional wave of tours and trinkets designed to attract almighty dollars to Orange County and the Golden State.
"Serra's greatest miracle was the foresight to bequeath his own benevolent legend to just the right people—the self-righteous, opportunistic power brokers who he knew would follow him," said Allover, blinking back tears. "He did it all without any of our modern public-relations tools, like TV, radio, newspapers or Web sites. With just a simple quill pen and a wild hair up his ass—and those mighty legions of Spanish conquistadors certainly didn't hurt."