80529084](/assets/ulc/blog/scaled/white-robes.jpg){.alignleft .size-medium .wp-image-7882 width=300 height=200}For a billion faithful worldwide, when the pope declares a thing, God has spoken. By that standard, there should be several million fewer babies born in coming years, and the world is due for some drastic changes in environmental practices as well.

When it comes to naming new saints, the pope also has a voice that is heard around the world. The process of beatification is closely watched, as some followers anticipate which historical figures will be named saints next with the eager relish of following the next first-round draft pick. One man who is up for potential beatification, though, has stirred substantial controversy already, based on an unvarnished history of his treatment of natives in what is now California.

Father Junipero Serra is credited with bringing Christianity to the Pacific. All along the coast are towns that he founded as Catholic missions. The natives in the late 1700s were brought to the missions for conversion to Christianity. Once converted, they were not allowed to leave the missions, and they then served the priests and monks, and learned a new language, culture and customs to replace their beliefs and lifestyles.

Good Catholics Free to Not Breed Like Rabbits

Using his power to speak to the entire world with pronouncements from the papacy, Pope Francis shocked some and pleased others when he proclaimed that the Catholic Church does not require the faithful to "breed like rabbits." While not officially changing the policy of the church, which forbids use of artificial contraception such as condoms or other means to prevent pregnancy, Pope Francis did encourage the faithful to practice responsible family planning methods. He indicated that a family size of about three is appropriate in his view.

'Man Has Slapped Nature in the Face'

Speaking of the ecological damage evident on the earth, ranging from exploitive resource extraction such as mining and drilling for oil to extensive damage from monoculture agricultural practices and deforestation in sensitive forests, Pope Francis said frankly, "Mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face." While the Pope is usually not thought of as an expert or a voice of concern on ecological issues, he recognizes that "we have exploited nature too much."

A Conflicted History

Stirring controversy as well is the pope's consideration for potential beatification of Junipero Serra. While the adventurous monk had a great impact on the development of the string of missions that connected the European settlements in the 1700s and beyond, the effect on the natives of the area was far from universally beneficial.

Lost were priceless cultural traditions, including languages and dances and other celebrations that were stamped out forcibly in the onslaught of a new dominant culture and religion. Many descendants of those original people who were sometimes whipped and harshly punished by the Catholics of the time, including Father Serra, question the value of honoring a man with such a mixed legacy.

One Pope's Impact

Many billions of religious people worldwide follow one leader on matters of faith. Whether it be the pope to faithful Catholics, or a different pope (or patriarch) for Eastern Orthodox followers, or the church president whom Mormon faithful revere as a living prophet, or an imam in Islamic communities, people tend to turn to the certainty of a definitive voice for guidance in troubled times. While the pope is still considered a moderate by many in society who wish to see dramatic improvements in ecological practices and decrease in human overpopulation that puts immense stress on the planet, his statements in favor of substantial change are welcomed by many.

Similarly, when he considers naming a new saint who stirs controversy for his historical actions, many millions watch his decision eagerly in the hope that he will lead by strong example, demonstrating his intent to honor those whose lives benefitted people around them with love and compassion. While the naming of saints has little direct impact on the lives of the world's seven billion occupants, the decisions that worldwide religious leaders, and everyday citizens, make daily to lead by good example can truly have a wide impact on the future of the species and the planet.

Category: Environment Religion

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