Statue of Newly Sainted Missionary Vandalized in Carmel

A statue of Father Junipero Serra was vandalized at the church where he is buried overnight Saturday in Northern California, according to the church.

Serra was canonized as a saint by Pope Francis this week in a controversial move – some Native Americans say the California's missions, which Serra helped found, cut their ancestors off from their traditional languages and cultures and enslaved those who converted to Christianity.

The statue of St. Serra at the Carmel Mission Basilica was discovered Sunday morning toppled over and covered in paint, the church said on Facebook. NBC affiliate KSBW confirmed the report. Serra’s headstone was damaged and graffiti was found on the mission grounds. 

Photos posted on the Mission's Facebook page show someone wrote "Saint of Genocide" on a stone. [[329707091, C]]

Carmel police are investigating the vandalism, according to KSBW. 

"When I came out for Mass this morning, I was disappointed, but it could have been much worse," Carmel Mission Basilica pastor father Paul Murphy told KSBW.

The first pope from the Americas is ready to elevate to sainthood an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to what is now California. Michelle Roberts reports.

The incident comes days after Pope Francis canonized Serra in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The canonization on Wednesday was the first to be held in North America.

"Pray that the people how did this take responsibility for their actions on this sacred property and that they seek reconciliation," a church representative wrote on Facebook, later asking for volunteers to help clean up.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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