Pope Praises "Holy" Saint-to-be Junipero Serra As Native Americans Raise Concern

The Guardian
May 2, 2015

Pope Francis holds a mass at the end of a conference on the canonization of Fra Junipero Serra on 2 May 2015. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis has praised the “holiness” and “zeal” of an 18th-century Franciscan missionary he will make a saint when he visits the US this fall, but whom Native Americans in California contend brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity.

Francis on Saturday praised the accomplishments and qualities of Reverend Junipero Serra during a homily at a Rome seminary training future priests from North America. The pope will elevate the Spanish native to sainthood in a ceremony in Washington on 23 September during his US pilgrimage.

Native Americans have held protests in California, saying instead of being honored, Serra should be criticised for what they say is his role in wiping out native populations in a brutal campaign to impose Catholicism.

Without addressing specific accusations, Francis praised Serra’s missionary zeal and said the priest “defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonisers”.

“He was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country,” the Argentinian-born pope said in the homily at a Mass in Rome’s Pontifical North American College.

In April, Father Vincenzo Criscuolo, a Franciscan from the Vatican department for the causes of saints, said Serra was “a man of his times” but not a brute.

On Saturday, at the event described as a “day of reflection” on Serra, American Cardinal Donald Wuerl said critics took a “secular and somewhat prejudiced view of the church” and did not have a “historically rooted appreciation” of what Serra did.

Francis made the surprise announcement last January that he would make Serra a saint during his visit to the US. The trip will include stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, where he will attend the World Meeting of Families.

On the way to the US, Francis will also visit Cuba, where he helped foster closer ties between Havana and Washington following more than a half century of mutual distrust and antagonism.

Francis said priests like Serra, who embarked on single-minded missions to spread Christianity “to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries”, should move others “to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent”.

Serra was beatified, the last step before sainthood, by the late Pope John Paul II in 1988 after a miracle was attributed to him. Pope Francis waived Roman Catholic church rules that required another miracle before recognising sainthood.








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