PRAY FOR ME
The year was 1989. I'd just been kicked out of the faculty apartment at SFAI for allowing my class to paint a mural on my wall. My port in the storm was a well known "youth hostel" in the Mission district run by an old friend I'll call Dr. M. A steady stream of young punks on various brands of dope came and went as the Dr. and I caught up in the parlor. An hour and a couple of colorful tabs into our visit and I spotted something on his mantle. From a distance it looked to be some sort of tourist Indian relic, a dagger in a cheap sheath. Steadying myself on increasingly wobbly legs, I made my way across the room for a better look. What looked cheezy at a distance proved to be quite authentic up close, as I lifted the heavy knife, turning it over in my hands. "Where'd you get this?" I asked my host, as his facial features turned reptilian. "It's the Padre's knife." he said with a wide grin. Que?
What followed was a long and twisted tale revolving around a museum theft, some undergrad hijinx and the history of California. If I was to believe the good doctor (and in my drug addled state I certainly did) this knife once belonged to that old Indian slaver, the founder of all the large missions on the west coast- Father Junipera Serra. "No shit." I held the knife, in it's woven scabbard, in my sweaty palms and went off into a rather strong hallucination. When I snapped out of it (24 hours later) the knife was still in my hands. I had one question. "Wanta trade?"
This past week Pope Francis visited the U.S. for the first time. In between congressional addresses, kissing babies, waving from that clown car and hamming it up with the Prez, another first took place. The Pope canonized Padre Serra as a full fledged saint in the Catholic church. He is the first "American" saint ever canonized on American soil. Everyone lapped it up, except of course the American Indians. But if history is any indication, neither churches nor governments give two shits what indigenous peoples think. Padre Serra and his bunch have been revising history concerning their treatment of Indians since day one. The Indians may have been enslaved, riddled with disease, murdered and treated like farm animals, but according to the Holy See they were treated kindly, educated, and brought into the missions "for their own good". Why there's not any coastal Indians left remains a mystery. Maybe that's the miracle Saint Serra is credited with. "They all vanished in a holy rapture. Praise the Lord!"
As Popes go the soft spoken Francis seems to be a good one. I want to think the best of him, quelling my propensity to think he has a string of 12 year old alter boys waiting back at the seminary. I did make a trade for that knife back in '89 and still have it on my desk. I actually tried to return it to the museum it was supposedly stolen from with no luck. No one would admit that it was ever part of their collection. Too many years had gone by and I'm sure someone collected an insurance check at some point. The Saint's knife is a beautiful, if not a slightly disturbing relic. When I go I'll leave it to the CLGM. You can figure out what to do with it. Pray for me.