(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Wednesday presided over the canonization of St Junipero Serra at Washington, DC’s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. St. Junipero was a Spanish Franciscan priest known for starting nine missions in the 18th century in what is today the US state of California.
Vatican Radio's Seàn-Patrick Lovett is travelling with the Pope on this 10th Apostolic Visit abroad to Cuba and to the United States.
He sent us this report from Washington, DC.
His tonsured head looks like it’s been in the sun. His mouth is firm and determined with a hint of laughter lines on either side. His Franciscan habit is tucked up around his neck placing the large, compassionate eyes in relief.
Character, personality and holiness – in a face.
This is the image of Junipero Serra displayed on the façade of the largest Catholic church in the United States – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – on the occasion of his canonization, the first to take place on American soil.
Looking at his unassuming portrait it’s hard to imagine how this 18th century Spanish friar could have had the faith (and the energy) to found 21 missions that would become the major cities of modern-day California – names that are now so familiar they have all but lost their original saintly significance: San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara…
His own saintliness was solemnly “declared and defined” (according to the formula of canonization) in Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon. Listening to the ethnic rhythms of the intercultural choirs and watching the expressions of prayer-filled devotion, any hint of the controversy that preceded the event seemed to disappear.
“The Church treads the dust-laden paths of history”, said Pope Francis in his homily at the canonization Mass, “in order to encounter her children”. For Junipero Serra that meant “defending the dignity of the native community, protecting it from those who had mistreated and abused it”, he said.
That “culture of encounter” was beautifully expressed during the celebration through the variety, diversity and inclusiveness of it all: the mix of musical styles, the readings in Native American and sign language – and another read by a young woman with Down Syndrome.
In this context, Junipero Serra’s motto, repeated by Pope Francis several times during his reflections, seemed to take on a series of new and deeper meanings. The motto (just in case you don’t know it) is: “Always go forward. Never go back”.
Going forward with Pope Francis in the United States – I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett