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The Doctrine of Discovery

Catholicism took our culture, matriarchal leadership, spirituality. It gave us the Bible and took our lands. We were seen as savages. Catholicism oppressed us to make us forget our ways and language and become “men and women of God.”

The canonization of Junipero Serra[1] condones and rewards the Doctrine of Discovery,[2] the genocide of our peoples and cultures. It doesn’t reflect Pope Francis’s innovative ideas to speak for the poor and vulnerable and to care for the environment—especially since the front-runners on environmental issues have been Indigenous peoples all along.

Despite all of this, I choose every day to be at peace with myself and the universe as an Indigenous woman raised Catholic. I honor my elders. I honor Mother Earth. I regard human life as priceless. I choose every day to act with integrity, to not recreate the harsh acts of oppression to which I have been subjected. I go to bed free and at peace. I will die free. I will die Indigenous raised Catholic.

What I need from my allies in RC is for them to discharge on the fact that I not only carry the effects of historical trauma and recordings of hurts but have also survived the attempted genocide of my peoples by U.S. imperialism. Discharge, discharge, discharge to decide to have a relationship with Indigenous people. And listen, listen, listen to our stories and history. Unite with us and demand that Pope Francis apologize to Indigenous peoples for the harm caused by the Doctrine of Discovery and withdraw it.

I have grown fully proud of my identity, of my connection to Mother Earth and to humanity. I love the many good parts of being Catholic and was thrilled when Pope Francis was chosen. I love that he is from Latin America and has a clear perspective on the theology of liberation. He beatified Archbishop Romero—my Archbishop, our martyr. This provided great hope for the vulnerable and a huge contradiction to our invisibility as Indigenous peoples.

© Cecilia Sosa-Patterson
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Originally from El Salvador 


[1] Junipero Serra was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest who founded Spanish missions in the 1700s in Baja California, Mexico, and California, USA. In September 2015 he was canonized by Pope Francis.

[2] The Doctrine of Discovery was put forth by European monarchies in order to legitimize their colonizing of lands outside of Europe. If Europeans discovered a place, they could claim it, as long as non-Christians occupied it.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00