The Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco performed a brief ceremony over the weekend that included an exorcism at a site where protesters tore down a statue of St. Junipero Serra.
According to The Associated Press, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone performed the rite Saturday in front of a crowd of approximately 150 people before going on to hold a Mass at St. Raphael Catholic Church and marching to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic to pray.
Serra was an 18th-century Spanish missionary priest and the father of the California mission system. In 2015, he was proclaimed a saint.
The toppling of the Serra statue in San Rafael was among many depictions of the priest to be vandalized this year in the Golden State.
A famous statue of Serra in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco was toppled in June amid nationwide protests and riots that followed the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Cordileone called that incident a “work of Satan.” Other symbols of American history, including statues of American founding fathers and other historical figures, particularly those who could in some way be tied to slavery or white supremacy, were torn down or vandalized in cities across the country.
Regarding the most recent toppling, San Rafael police said that five people have been arrested on vandalism charges for knocking over the Serra statue, leaving only the feet attached to the base. The Serra statue is reportedly undergoing repairs and will be returned.
“During this incident and the subsequent destruction of the statue, it was considered that the statue could be replaced or repaired and that the importance of using sound judgment and de-escalation techniques was paramount to preventing physical interactions between officers and protestors,” local authorities said.
Critics say the Spanish missionary Franciscan priest forced Native Americans to leave behind their own culture or be punished.
In the Roman Catholic church, an exorcism is most commonly administered by a priest who has been formally trained in exorcism for the express purpose of expelling a demon from a spiritually tormented person or area. Demand for exorcists has risen significantly in recent years.
“An exorcism at its very core is an official prayer of the church,” Vince Lampert, official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said in 2017.
“So oftentimes people might be more interested in the theatrics or the sensationalism, but it really is a prayer, whereby God is asked to bring relief into the life of the person who is suffering.”
He added, “Early on, I would probably get about five calls a week. Currently, in 2017, I received an average of 30 calls a week.”
At the site where the Serra statue was toppled in San Rafael, Cordileone said prayers in Latin, noting that “the experts in the field tell me that Latin tends to be more effective against the devil because he doesn’t like the language of the church.”