Was he a saint or a sinner, an evangelizer or an enslaver?
During his visit to Washington, Pope Francis will preside over one of the most controversial acts of his papacy. He will confer sainthood on the 18th century Spanish missionary Friar Junipero Serra, and in doing so, dive into a cultural battle in the United States.
Corine Fairbanks, director of the Southern California chapter of the American Indian Movement, opposes the canonization, which takes place on September 23, the day after the pope arrives in the United States from Cuba.
"The pope stating that this person is someone saintly, or someone to be looked up to, or even revered or prayed to is giving the international message that what happened (to indigenous people), was by divine right," Fairbanks told Reuters Television.
"Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people were killed all in the name of Catholicism and progress, so to speak."
In Bolivia last July, the pope said "many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God" and asked forgiveness "not only for the offences of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America."
Vatican sources said Francis may make another apology during the canonisation ceremony outside a Washington church, where some Native Americans say they hope to be able to protest.
Monsignor J. Michael McKiernan, rector of Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano, California, acknowledged that Serra had "human flaws and difficulties and struggles" but that overall his legacy was a positive one.
"It's not all happiness and grace," he told Reuters Television. “There were some difficult times as well.”
"So some of the things that some of our brothers and sisters and Native Americans are concerned about, are very real and we don't want to deny those, but also recognising that his legacy also brought beautiful things as we celebrate here every single day."