A statue of St. Junipero Serra statue that was toppled June 19, 2020, in Golden Gate Park and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone are seen in this composite photo. (CNS composite photo/images by David Zandman via Reuters; Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Several dozen people joined San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone as he led the rosary June 27 and recited the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel for protection from evil at the site of the now-toppled statue of St. Junipero Serra in the city's Golden Gate Park.

The archbishop prayed for forgiveness and healing about a week after the statue of the saint and statues of others, including Ulysses S. Grant, were defaced and thrown off their pedestals, as part of a protest against racial inequality.

Archbishop Cordileone described the Serra statue as "blasphemously torn down."

"An act of sacrilege occurred here. That is an act of the evil one. Evil has made itself present here," he said in a YouTube video. "So we have gathered together to pray to God and to ask the saints for their intercession, above all our Blessed Mother, in an act of reparation, asking God's mercy upon us, upon our whole city, that we might turn our hearts back to him."

He led the group in praying the rosary, "as Our Lady asks us," the archbishop said. "Our Lady is always asking us to pray the rosary, asking her intercession. The rosary has the power to change history. History has shown that it can change the course of history."

After the rosary, he offered "the prayer of exorcism, the St. Michael Prayer, because evil is present here," he said.

The prayer says in part: "Blessed Michael, archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil -- may God restrain him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell and with him those other wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen."

"This is the activity of the evil one, who wants to bring down the church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers, so we offer that prayer and bless this ground with holy water so that God might purify it, sanctify it and that we in turn might be sanctified," Archbishop Cordileone said.

In the YouTube video, Archbishop Cordileone said that since he learned the statue of St. Junipero Serra had been desecrated during a protest against racial injustice that led some participants to vandalize statues in Golden Gate Park, he had been "feeling great distress."

He said he feels "a deep wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy and disparaging of the memory of Serra, who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land."

He said the saint "was very much a part of my own life growing up. I grew up very close to the first mission that he founded near San Diego."

The presence of so many people gathered to pray the rosary with him "was a great comfort and a support to me. I'm very grateful to them," Archbishop Cordileone said.

St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis Sept. 23, 2015, during his pastoral visit to Washington, is known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century.

The Franciscan priest landed in Mexico, then made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state's 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to the canonization of the Spaniard, like critics did of his beatification in 1988, because of questions about how Father Serra treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.

In his statement issued after the Serra statue was brought down, Archbishop Cordileone said June 20: "The memorialization of historic figures merits an honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given. But here, there was no such rational discussion; it was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country."

In His comments on the YouTube video, he said that "the first and most important thing for Catholics is to pray, so I encourage them to pray to pray the rosary." He also asks Catholics "to inform themselves."

"There's a lot of ignorance of the real history, so I would ask our people to learn about the history of Father Serra, of the missions, of the whole history of the church so they can appreciate the great legacy the church has given us, given the world so much truth, beauty and goodness. It's a wonderful legacy we should be proud of," Archbishop Cordileone said.

"There are those who want to make us feel ashamed of it. We have every reason to be proud of it," he said. "But also we have to approach leading our Christian life with humility and giving, to continue to give goodness to the world and to give the world beauty and truth with the help of the grace of God."

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