Pope Presides Over First Canonization of Saint on U.S. Soil
Pope Francis made history Wednesday when he canonized Fransiscan
missionary Junipero Serra and celebrated mass in the nation's
largest church. Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
A crowd of some 25,000 gathered at the nation's largest Catholic church to witness history: not just Pope Francis' first mass in the United States but the first canonization of a saint to be held on U.S. soil.
"The Holy Mother Church earnestly beseeches your holiness to
enter blessed Junipero Serra among the saints," said Cardinal
Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington.
The Litany of Saints was sung, and then with three words - "We
so decree" - Pope Francis officially added Father Junipero
Serra's name to that list.
During the service, now-Saint Junipero was praised for his
missionary work in California during the Spanish conquest in the
1700s. The Church credits him with baptizing and confirming thousands
of indigenous people.
"He hoped to shape with them, slowly and in a voluntary
fashion, the tenets of Catholicism," said one speaker at the
His canonization, though, has been controversial, as the conversions weren't necessarily voluntary, and some Native American groups charge that Serra played an active role in the conquest and abuse of indigenous people.
Native Americans were represented in the service. Relics of the new
saint were carried to the altar by a group that included a man wearing
a feathered shawl, and the first reading was delivered in an
In fact, several languages were spoken throughout the mass, a nod to
the diversity of the congregation that Wuerl would later praise.
"You can see that this church shows the face reflective of
Africa, Central and South America, Mexico, India, Asia, Europe, as
well as our own Native Americans," he said.
As for the pontiff, he delivered his homily in Spanish. Using Father
Serra as an example, he claimed that nothing gives Christians more joy
than spreading the word of the Gospel. Father Serra, he said, lived by
the saying "Keep moving forward," and he beseeched the crowd
to make that their mission as well.
"Today, like him, may we always be able to say, 'Forward. Let's
keep moving forward.'"