Pope Announces Canonization of Bl. Junipero Serra

Is this a sign that part of the pilgrimage to the United States
will include a visit in California?


Bl. Junipero Serra, and his “pectoral” cross

St. John Paul II started the “tradition” of having press conferences aboard “papal planes” on pilgrimages. JPII was the most traveled pope, air travel was a less than common occurrence for prior popes. Some might be nostalgic for the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was, shall we say, circumspect during such occasions. Our current Holy Father has been rather more, uh, candid than his predecessors.


Painting of Bl. Junipero Serra and company from Spain via Mexico arriving at the Monterey Peninsula, and celebrating mass

But it was exciting news to learn that aboard the flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines,  Pope Francis announced that he is dispensing with the miracle requirement for Bl. Junipero Serra (as he has done with a few other recent canonizations) and will declare the Franciscan friar who evangelized Alta California and established the string of California missions along the El Camino Real a saint of the Holy Catholic Church.

The subject of Spanish imperialization of the New World remains a delicate and touchy subject for many. I recall that in college, nothing got my liberal tenured history professors more twisted and upset than when discussing the treatment of America’s natives at the hands of the English, French and Spanish imperialists. Far more than the need for miracles, in the case of Serra the cause should have been very careful about scrutinizing his actions relative to methods of mission work, and ensuring that he was indeed saintly in his actions to the people who he worked with, and evangelized.

Courtyard of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Courtyard of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Bl. Junipero was accompanied by Spanish soldiers as he established the missions. At the time, Spain was interested in staking a territorial claim to Alta California, and viewed the missions as a means not just for evangelization, but also its commercial and imperial interests, which included maintaining a toehold on California and preventing expansion by Russia and others.

It appears that Bl. Junipero was focused on his mission, and worked hard to protect the natives from Spanish soldiers. He effectuated the removal of at least one Spanish governor of the territory (in part due to this governor’s cruelty toward the native population). It appears that Bl. Junipero was a kind and benevolent man who was earnestly interested in bringing Christ to the indigenous people.

Altarpiece in the mission church at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Bl. (soon to be St.) Junipero is buried beneath the altar.

Altarpiece in the mission church at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Bl. (soon to be St.) Junipero is buried beneath the altar.

He suffered an injury to his leg that tortured him for many years, preventing sleep and easy travel, but Serra steadfastly refused to return to Spain or Mexico, for fear that it would dissolve his work. But he was also a man of his time, and held attitudes toward the native people that some today find less than defensible. True historians must always allow for context, but canonization isn’t only concerned with context; rather, the process is meant to arrive at a declaration of holiness. Holiness is not necessarily tempered by context.

The other exciting piece of this news is that the canonization will take place in the United States, while the pope is here in September. There will be some speculation, will the Holy Father travel to California? It certainly would be a boon for all of America to have Serra canonized in the U.S., but to date the impression has been that the pope will confine his visit to the East Coast, and possibly a city like Chicago, but would not be traveling to California. I’d argue that the Serra connection to New York or Philadelphia is pretty tenuous, not the ideal venue for the canonization.

Front of the mission church, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Front of the mission church, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

I think Serra should be canonized at or near the place where he is buried, at the second mission he established, San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo in Monterey, California. Incidentally, our family (as part of our homeschool / mission curriculum) visited this mission last Sunday, which has recently undergone a seismic retrofit to the mission church, and is awaiting structural repairs and general freshening to the other buildings in the mission complex.

In terms of logistics, access, etc., the mission would not be ideal for the canonization, but it is a beautiful place to visit (JPII visited in 1987) and soon will be home to the remains of St. Junipero Serra! The canonization could occur at a nearby stadium, or the cathedral in Monterey, Los Angeles, San Diego, or even San Francisco.


3 thoughts on “Pope Announces Canonization of Bl. Junipero Serra

  1. Pingback: Bl. Junipero Serra to be Canonized in Washington, D.C.?!?!? | Quartermaster of the Barque

  2. Pingback: “Home School Days” at Monterey Bay Aquarium | Quartermaster of the Barque

  3. Pingback: Wednesday, February 11, 2015: Fifth Week of Ordinary Time | The Quarterdeck

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