Tag Archives: sainthood

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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Saint Oscar Romero? Here’s why

January 14, 2015

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romero book coverIt will have been only 35 years this March 30 that an assassin’s bullet through the heart ended the life of the archbishop of San Salvador as he celebrated Mass in 1980.

The late-20th-century martyr for Gospel justice shouldn’t be forgotten by 21st-century Catholics, and author Kevin Clarke helps us all to remember that with his brief but powerfully written life of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Clarke’s book, “Oscar Romero: Love Must Win Out,” is one of the newest in the series of biographies that Liturgical Press in Collegeville is publishing, “People of God: Remarkable Lives, Heroes of Faith.”

It captures the essence of Romero and the societal sins of upper-class Salvadorans and members of the military who, as Clarke writes, were either complicit  or blindly implicit in the archbishop’s assassination.

A hard-line traditionalist as a priest, Romero was thought by his nation’s wealthy elite and by the bishops of El Salvador to be “one of them” when he was named to the archbishop’s chair by Pope Paul VI.

For Romero, Vatican II had been an earthquake and the liberation theology of the Latin American bishops’ at Medellin an aftershock, in Clarke’s words. His reputation was that of a strict conservative, but before he was appointed to San Salvador he had already begun to turn away from the status quo that made so few rich and left so many in his country’s in desperate poverty.

As bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria, he visited Tres Calles, a village where six men and boys had just been buried. They had been dragged from their beds, tortured and murdered with bullets and machetes by the National Guard.

On the way back, Romero ran into another incident: the body of a boy was found in a roadside ditch. He too had been tortured and murdered.

He told a priest companion, “We have to find a way to evangelize the rich, so that they can change, so that they convert.”

Clarke notes: “What is telling about the Tres Calles moment for Romero is the beginning of his understanding that what was wanted from the wealthy to give to the poor was not mere material charity, but a conversion of the heart that would allow them to understand that what the poor of El Salvador need most was not a crumb from their table, but a seat at it; not charity, but justice.”

Romero protested the massacre to the local Guardia commander, and in what would turn out to be foreshadowing, the officer shrugged and advised the bishop, “Cassocks are not bulletproof.”

Romero saw that the so-called “political” work of the “liberation” clerics he had previously been suspicious of was “a natural, spiritually sound and even required outgrowth of their pastoral work,” and was supported by recent Church teaching.

Then his friend Father Rutilio Grande was murdered in a hail of bullets. Clarke notes:

“The killing of this Jesuit priest was the signal of an abrupt rupture, for the old Romero was cast off completely and a new Romero emerged: empathetic, soulful and courageous.”

Romero took on the powers that be, using the archdiocesan radio station and newspaper to report the repression and violence, news that wasn’t available from the media controlled by the elites. He refused to participate in government ceremonies or official events or to attend events in which he might be photographed socializing with El Salvador’s political or military leaders. He went further, raising money to feed campesinos hiding in the mountains and arranging to hide victims of political violence at the national seminary.

Although he was accused of being a Marxist, he tried to convert both the powerful and those seeing change. He preached to elites, “Do not make idols of your riches; do not preserve them in a way that lets others die of hunger.”

He also met clandestinedly with guerrilla leaders to try to persuade them of the power of Christian nonviolence in the face of oppression.

Clarke explains well the geopolitical situation of the time — the fear of communism spreading in Latin America — that had both the United States and the Vatican supporting the status quo in El Salvador.

When, at the Vatican, Archbishop Romero tried to explain that his country’s revolutionaries were not communists but campesinos “defending their people against sometimes incomprehensible violence and the life-crushing force of economic and social oppression,” he was reprimanded. Clarke writes:

“After being battered by Cardinal Sebasiano Baggio, secretary of the Congregation of Bishops, he endured more admonishments from the secretary of state office, where a curial operative suggested Romero remember the ‘prudence’ with which Jesus Christs conducted his public life.’

“ ‘If he was so prudent, then why was he killed?’ Romero wanted to know.”

Killing Romero demonstrated how far some are willing to go to protect their status and privilege, and an important point Clarke brings out is how the man’s inhumanity to man kept escalating, with government-backing death squads not satisfied merely to kill. The viciousness turned from brutality to depravity, with, for example, a priest’s face being shot off.

In the end, Archbishop Romero’s death led to 12 years of civil war in El Salvador, ending only in 1992. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans were killed, primarily (85 percent) murdered by their own military, according to a UN Truth Comission.

As the slain archbishop’s cause for sainthood moves forward finally, readers of this 137-page biography will understand why, and perhaps be perplexed as to why it has taken 35 years.

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Long time coming: 130-old church by ‘God’s architect’ consecrated

November 4, 2010

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When Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was asked to hurry along his work on Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, he was known to reply, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Of course, he wasn’t talking about the archbishop of Barcelona. He was taking about God, and that’s how he viewed his imaginative, soaring work — as something built for God, not man. Gaudí was known for piety, and he’s been dubbed “God’s architect.” A cause is underway for his sainthood, which is pretty impressive, since few artists have been given the honor.

Now, almost 130 years after Gaudí began his church, it’s finally being consecrated — and they pulled in the big guns to do it. No less than Pope Benedict XVI himself will pray the ritual Nov. 7 for its consecration during a papal trip to Spain.

The consecration of a church formally distinguishes the space as sacred, rather than “profane,” or common. Usually, churches are consecrated at the beginning of their use, after the buildings are finished. Although Sagrada was dedicated to the Holy Family, it was never consecrated, probably because it was never finished.

In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram, and he died a few days later. His art nouveau church was unfinished, and his vision was so grand that its actual completion was no small task. It remains unfinished today, although it’s hoped to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death in 2026.

If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, the thing worth knowing about Sagrada Familia is that it’s absolutely wild. I mean it — it’s the kind of thing that gives the imagination of Zaha Hadid a run for her money. With its eight telescoping spires, flying buttresses and sculptural forms that look like wax sliding down a 394-foot candle, it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, medieval and futuristic. If completed according to Gaudí’s plans, it will have 18 towers, the tallest of which could soar to 560 feet.

Mass has been celebrated in the cathedral despite its construction status, and it draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each day. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site. People are attracted to the cathedral’s harmony, beauty and symbolism, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, told Zenit. It also converts, he added.

“I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.

“The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.”

According to the cardinal, Japanese sculpture Etsuro Soto, who was working on the church, and his wife, became Catholic because of Gaudí’s work in 1991.

“We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God,” the cardinal added.

It’s hard to judge what’s going to be more impressive — the pope’s Nov. 7 consecration Mass, which is expected to include 1,100 concelebrating priests, or the cathedral itself when it’s completed in 16 years.

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