SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone gathered a group of worshipers over the weekend at the site where Black Lives Matter protesters toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra to conduct a exorcism because “evil is present here.”

Cordileone has been very vocal with his harsh criticism of the protesters. A video the exorcism ceremony was posted on YouTube on Tuesday.

“We are here at the site where the statue of Father Serra stood in Golden Gate Park that was blasphemously torn down,” the archbishop said on the video. “An act of sacrilege occurred here that is an act of the evil one. Evil has made itself present here.”

In the video, the archbishop leads a group of about two dozen worshipers and clergy — all socially distanced — in the rosary and the prayer of exorcism.

“I’ve been feeling great distress and sort of a deep wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy and disparaging of the memory of Serra — who was such a great hero,” said Cordileone in the clip.

Serra was an 18th century Roman Catholic priest who founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions and is credited with bringing Roman Catholicism to the Western United States.

Serra’s legacy within the state has also drawn a great deal of criticism because he forced Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment. His statues have been defaced in California for several years by people who said he destroyed tribes and their culture.

Statues of Serra, Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant were toppled and defaced by Black Lives Matter demonstrators during a night of protest on June 19. The action was part of a national trend where protesters have targeted historical figures associated with racial inequality and torn down their statues.

At the time, police released a statement that read in part: “Officers arrived and observed several hundred people vandalizing structures and statues. As emergency backup arrived, the crowd turned on police and began throwing objects at the officers. At approximately 9:30 p.m. the group began to disperse in several directions. No arrests were made and no injuries were reported.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed also released a statement on the vandalism in the park:

There is very real pain in this country rooted in our history of slavery and oppression, especially against African-Americans and Indigenous people. I know that pain all too well. But the damage done to our park last night went far beyond just the statues that were torn down, and included significant damage to Golden Gate Park. Every dollar we spend cleaning up this vandalism takes funding away from actually supporting our community, including our African-American community. I say this not to defend any particular statue or what it represents, but to recognize that when people take action in the name of my community, they should actually involve us. And when they vandalize our public parks, that’s their agenda, not ours.

If we are going to make real change, let’s do the work with our impacted communities to make that change. To do that, I have asked the Arts Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and the Recreation and Parks Department and its Commission to work with the community to evaluate our public art and its intersection with our country’s racist history so that we can move forward together to make real changes in this City. Who and what we honor through our public art can and should reflect our values.

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