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Junipero Serra, the “evangelist of California” who Pope Francis will canonize

2015-04-21

While returning from his trip to Sri Lanka in January, Pope Francis announced that he planned to canonize Friar Junipero Serra during his upcoming trip to the United States. The Spanish Franciscan evangelized natives in California during the 18th century.

GUZMÁN CARRIQUIRY
Secretary, Pontifical Commission for Latin America
"There are many testimonies about his defense of indigenous women who were raped by soldiers or Spanish settlers. Friar Junipero was a great father and protector of the natives. He always defended the dignity of the indigenous and therefore often came into conflict with the military leaders in the region.”

The Vatican has announced that the canonization will take place on the evening of September 23 in Washington. Pope Francis plans to personally preside over the ceremony.

From Rome, the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America said that the Friar Junipero Serra represents a part of American history. Catholic missionaries were among the first settlers in the southern and western United States.

GUZMÁN CARRIQUIRY
Secretary, Pontifical Commission for Latin America
"Remembering this Hispanic and Catholic history gives a more complete picture of the origins of the United States. It also helps to overcome the walls that separate the Anglo-Saxon from the Hispanic, the Protestant from the Catholic, and the United States from Latin America.”

However, the canonization has also generated controversy in the United States. In fact, there is currently a debate as to whether a statue of Friar Junipero in the U.S. Capitol should be replaced with a more current figure. That Vatican has said that would be a mistake.

GUZMAN CARRIQUIRY
Secretary, Pontifical Commission for Latin America
"What would this say to the millions of Hispanics in the United States, the vast majority of whom venerate the Blessed Junipero Serra? Do you want to remove the only Hispanic, the only Hispanic that is present in the hall of notables in the country? The only one? It would not be welcomed in a land that is proposed as an example of multicultural tolerance.”

Currently, 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, and 24 percent identify as Catholic.

Another interesting detail about the upcoming canonization is that Pope Francis has decided to carry it out without a second miracle being recognized. He also did so for Pope John XXIII and José Vaz in Sri Lanka. Friar Junipero Serra is similar to Vaz. Both were powerful evangelizers, a feature that seems to appeal to Pope Francis.


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