Pope Francis is in the USA today. This morning he spoke to a joint session of the United States Congress. Yesterday, he canonized Bl. Junipero Serra, whom we now refer to as St Junipero Serra. It was the first canonization ever to take place in the United States. This year, I am the president of the Serra Club of Lincoln, Nebraska, and so this canonization is very special to me and to all “Serrans” worldwide.
Father Serra was a Franciscan friar who journeyed from his native Spain in 1759 to be a missionary on the west coast of Mexico and the United States. His task was to bring the salvation of Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith to Native Americans in this region. His purpose included claiming the land for Spain and also to assist with commerce. Note that this move occurred in 1759, which was seventeen years before our nation was born on July 4, 1776.
I’m sure I was introduced to Fr. Serra in elementary school in Iowa back in the 1950’s. It wasn’t until I moved to California in 1973, however, that I saw, first-hand, the evidence of his work. Up and down the entire coast of California, from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north, this evidence is still visible today in the form of the ruins of the mission churches that he and the natives built. Many have been well-maintained and are open to tourists today. Two that I remember visiting during my time in California are the San Juan Capistrano mission and the Santa Barbara mission, both in southern California. The photo accompanying this post is one that I took while visiting the San Juan Capistrano mission (when my photography hobby was in its infancy back in 1976).
I was startled to learn some additional facts about him and his work as the canonization approached. First, since the work took place prior to the birth of our country, he is recognized as a founding father of the United States. Second, a statue of Fr. Serra is one of the two statues representing California in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. (Pope Francis stopped and prayed before this statue after his speech this morning.) Third, the names of twenty-one California cities are also the names of the original missions. In some cases, the city was named after the mission, while in other cases, the mission was named after the city. Well-known examples include San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.
Today, in the ever-increasing secularization of our society, there are those who say that they have found fault with Fr. Serra and his work, saying that he mistreated the Native Americans and destroyed their culture. These folks even want to remove the statue of Fr. Serra from our nation’s Capitol (and from the California state Capitol) for this reason. Shame on them!
My prayer for today: Lord, thank you for the gift of St. Juniper Serra. Please help the Serra clubs worldwide as we strive to increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life and please help us to eliminate the secularization of our society so that greater praise and glory may be yours. Amen.