Pope Francis on Thursday announced that he will canonize Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions.
Canonization is the formal elevation of a person to sainthood and the ceremony will take place in September when the pontiff is scheduled to visit the East Coast.
“In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States, who was the evangelizer of the west of the United States,” Pope Francis stated in a press releases issued by the Vatican. The Pope will visit Philadelphia for a world gathering of Catholic families. While Philadelphia is the only official stop announced so far on his American tour, Vatican officials say he is expected to visit New York City to address the United Nations and also travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Barack Obama.
Pope Francis has said that, since Father Serra has for centuries been considered a holy man, he has decided to wave Church rules that require a second miracle to be attributed to the candidate for sainthood after his beatification. Pope John Paul II beatified Father Serra in 1987.
When beatified, a deceased person is declared by a pope to be among the blessed and thus entitled to specific religious honor.
Father Junipero Serra was a Franciscan missionary who founded the 21 missions dotting California from San Diego to Sonoma between 1789-1833. He is a virtual icon of the colonial era of the state whose statue stands in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and in the U.S. Capital. Many Native Indians condemned the 1987 beatification, pointing to the harsh conditions of mission life and Father Serra’s own justification of mistreatment of the Native Indian population in California.
Father Serra wrote in 1780: “… that spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of [the Americas]; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule.” Defenders throughout the centuries have cited the context of Father Serra’s times, his personal sacrifices and religious zeal, as well as his opposition to punitive military expeditions against the Native Indians as exonerating factors.