Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra
Pope Francis on January 16 announced his decision to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of the California missions during his visit to Washington, DC this fall. The ceremony will take place at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope decided to waive the requirement for two miracles. Blessed Fr. Serra is said to have cured a nun in St. Louis from lupus. However a second miracle has not been attributed to his intervention. Pope Francis said that Blessed Junipero Serra has been considered to have been a holy man for many decades and that he is a good example of evangelization — bringing the gospel — to those who have not heard it.
Blessed Junipero Serra has become a controversial figure since the mission system led to the downfall of the ancient cultures of the native people and their way of life. He and the other missionaries are blamed for the destruction of ancient ways. Others see him as the founder of California and a moderating force in the Spanish expansion into Alta California. For example, when the Viceroy demanded the execution of 12 captured Kumeyaay Indians who had attacked Mission San Diego in 1775 and killed three Spaniards, Blessed Junipero Serra managed to spare their lives. The Los Angeles Times published a well balanced article on January 16, “Decision to Canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction.”
Native people today are divided on the subject. Andy Galvan an Ohlone Indian and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco focuses on the positive aspects of Spanish colonization and says that Blessed Junipero Serra “was a very good man in a very bad situation.” His cousin, Vincent Medina, who is also an Ohlone Indian and the assistant curator at Mission Dolores, focuses on the negative outcomes. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, SJ, PhD, a religious studies professor at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has characterized the controversy as a debate about “an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards of cultural diversity, religious pluralism and personal autonomy.”