The Pope left the Vatican for a few hours, to celebrate Mass at the North American College in Rome.
With American seminarians seated in the pews, the Pope honored the life and legacy of Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish missionary who left it all behind to evangelize to Native Americans in present day California.
"He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from California to Florida.”
He established the first mission in the city of San Diego. Through that same framework, another 20 missions were created in areas that would soon become major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
In addition to evangelizing the Catholic faith, the Pope said he protected the natives from the abuse of colonizers. And he did a lot more on a practical level as well.
California State University, Monterey Bay.
"From aqueducts to a system of democracy...All of this came thanks to the missions in California.”
But his coming canonization isn't free of controversy. Some native American groups and tribes, argue that the Spanish missionary, evangelized through violence and aggression.
Author: Junípero Serra: Ca, Indians and the Transformation of a Missionary
"The missions inevitably, had an aspect of force and coersion. It didn't seem to me that the missionaries were all that upfront in telling people, joining the missions is a one way street. There is no exit from the missions and Baptism is a lifetime commitment.”
With this Mass, the Pope sent a clear message that he's not backing down. The Pope himself plans to canonize Serra on September 23rd, during his visit to Washington, D.C
CARD. DONALD WUERL
Archbishop of Washington D.C.
"This will be the first time in the history of the Church in the U.S that a saint will be raised to the altars in the U.S.”
Even so, there are petitions to take down a statue of Junipero in Washington and to replace it with that of a late astronaut. The Vatican says, that would be a mistake.