In the days, and even in the hours, before he and other Native American leaders from California were to meet with Pope Francis Sept. 23 after the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra in Washington, D.C., Redstar was besieged with questions — from reporters and others.

What would this Chumash leader say?

What did he hope to gain? Why was he participating in this event, an event that upset many Native Americans, and others, because of abuses perpetrated against Native Americans in California by colonizing Spaniards, including Catholic clergy?

“I told people I had no idea what I would say to the pope,” the 62-year-old Carpinteria resident told The Tidings last weekend at Mission San Buenaventura, which he represented at the canonization Mass and which hosted a canonization celebration Mass Nov. 21.

“But I knew I had to be there, as a sign of healing and bridge-building,” added Redstar, a construction firm safety officer, proud to be both Chumash and a lifelong Catholic. “Whatever ugliness has happened to Native Americans — and it has happened — we have a responsibility to end it and heal as children of God. Pope Francis is offering compassion, and that’s what we need in the world.”

Catholic and Chumash

A native Venturan as well as Chumash, Redstar grew up in “a very Catholic” household attending Sacred Heart Church. “I was baptized Catholic, served as an altar boy, attended St. Bonaventure High and taught catechism here at the Mission,” he said. “And I would sometimes share my Chumash culture with the kids — teach them words and songs.”

But it wasn’t until he was attending the University of Miami Medical School, and had read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown on the federal government’s treatment of Native Americans in the 19th century, that Redstar felt a burning desire to connect with his heritage.

A spur-of-the-moment trip to Rapid City, South Dakota, and the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, where Oglala Lakota members taught him much about the Native American experience, customs and beliefs, “was life-changing for me.” When he returned to Southern California, he continued to learn about his own Chumash culture and became an active participant and leader in the Native American community.

And yet he maintained his ties to the Catholic Church, attending Mass, albeit irregularly, to honor his Catholic elders.

“To deny your Catholic and Christian upbringing is to deny yourself,” Redstar said. “The Church influenced me to be a good human being, to help others as my mother did. My grandparents taught me decency, honesty, respect — the core teachings of any solid belief system. They also gave me a gift to speak and involve myself in my community.

“And besides, I’m someone who’s always thought outside the box, who never did the obvious thing, whatever that was. I know there are a lot of opinions about Serra and the Church. My feeling is, we need to move forward and make things right for the future.”

Several years ago, through Chumash spiritual leader Adelina Alva-Padilla in Santa Ynez, Redstar met Auxiliary Bishop Ed Clark. It offered the bishop a chance to learn more about Native American customs, rituals and beliefs, and led to more dialogue among California bishops and Native American Catholic leaders.

And it led to Redstar being invited, with other Native American descendants from regions where Father Serra founded the first nine missions, to meet with Pope Francis after the canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

‘You don’t need to say much’

“We sat right up front — courtside,” said Redstar with a smile, “with a perfect view of Pope Francis.” He and others wore their traditional attire, and were clearly visible when, shortly before the Mass ended, they were led back into the basilica for their meeting.

When the moment arrived, “we each had time to speak to the Holy Father,” said Redstar. “And you could see, in each person as they spoke with him, the light in their eyes and their spirit grow. But at these times, you don’t need to say much.”

Speaking to the pope in Spanish, Redstar told him “about my mom, how much she loved the Church. His smile was so wide … it was just incredible.”

A few weeks before the Mass, while walking along the beach, Redstar had found a small conch shell, cleaned it and put it in his pocket, not sure what to do with it. Now, looking at the pope, “I looked in his eyes, and I had the shell in my hand, and I said, ‘Take this gift; it’s not much, but I give it to you with all my heart.’ He looked at it like a little boy with a new toy. He smiled, and walked off.”

Two months later, reflecting on his meeting with Pope Francis, Redstar says, firmly, “I have no doubt God wanted me to be there. We can’t continue the ugliness of what has happened; we can’t pass that along to our children. You see generations of gangbangers who live that life because that’s all they know. It is our place to heal and move on.

“And I’m not here to serve anyone’s agenda; what I feel and what I need to say has to serve all of us. I won’t spew ugliness and anger. I feel the spirit of God, and I say what he wants me to say. And I say thank you, Jesus, for guiding me.”