Tag Archives: Canonization

Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015

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An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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Saint Junipero Serra, O.F.M., Priest and Missionary

September 18, 2015

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Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States will be the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, O.F.M., as a saint, this coming Wednesday, September 23.  Father Serra (1713-1784) was declared venerable, the first step toward sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in 1985, and he was beatified, the second step toward sainthood, also by Pope John Paul II, on September 25, 1988.  His canonization is the third and final step to official recognition as a saint.

Father Junipero Serra has long been regarded as the apostle and founder of California, but this well-known and highly-respected portion of his ministry was the third major chapter of his life.  Two other very important chapters preceded it.

Saint Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24, 1713, on the Spanish Island of Mallorca off of the coast of mainland Spain.  His parents, Antonio Serra and Margarita Ferrer, were both devout Catholics who raised their son in the faith.  During his childhood he went to a nearby Franciscan friary where he went to daily Mass, was an altar server, sang in the monastery choir, and attended school.  By the time he was fifteen, Miguel felt called to a religious vocation, and he entered the Franciscan novitiate.  He made formal application to the community at sixteen, but was denied because he was too young, too frail, and too short of stature at only five feet, two inches.  Extremely insistent, he was admitted a year later and made his first profession of vows on September 15, 1731.  He took Junipero, the name of one of St. Francis of Assisi’s closest friends, a jovial friar known as the “Jester of the Lord,” as his name for religious life.

Serra studied philosophy from 1731 to 1734 and theology from 1734 to 1737, and was ordained to the priesthood in November, 1737.  He was brilliant academically, and spent the next twelve years as a philosophy and theology professor, first at the Convento San Francisco, and then at the Lullian University in Palma where he held the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy.  This abruptly changed in 1749 when he asked for permission to be a missionary to New Spain, Mexico.

Serra arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico, on December 7, 1749, for the second major chapter of his life in Mexico from 1750 to 1767.  The first eight years were spent in Sierra Gorda in the north central region of the country where he preached the gospel to the Pames people and built five new mission churches.  In 1758 he was recalled to Mexico City where he served at San Fernando College and as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Mexico.

Then another abrupt change took place.  On June 23, 1767, the Spanish government issued a decree that expelled the Jesuits from all of the missions in Mexico.  The Franciscans were asked to replace them and Father Serra was appointed their leader.  He moved briefly to Baja California, but shortly thereafter was offered the opportunity to go to Alta California, the northern portion, which today is the southwestern part of the State of California.  Wishing to be a missionary in a place where the gospel had never been preached, Father Serra jumped at the chance, and he, accompanied by a band of fellow Franciscans, arrived in San Diego on July 1, 1767.

The third and last chapter of his life was in California from 1767 until 1784.  During this time he traveled thousands of miles by foot, preached far and wide, made converts, baptized new believers, and founded nine missions. He objected to the Spanish military’s harsh treatment of the native peoples, and in 1774 he went to Mexico City to advocate on their behalf, and obtained a Bill of Rights for them.  His personal motto was, “Always go forward, never turn back.”  He died of tuberculosis on August 28, 1784, and he is buried at the church of San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, California, at the second mission that he founded.

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