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 mass.

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 indigenous language.

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.'"


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