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A Patron Saint for California
During his visit to the United States this coming September, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the heroic 'Apostle of California.' Once that happens, the Golden State will have its own patron saint and the Church will have another great missionary role model and intercessor for the New Evangelization.
LOS ANGELES, CA - During an airborne press conference en route to the Philippines last January, Pope Francis revealed that he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the heroic 'Apostle of California,' during his visit to the United States this coming September. As a Catholic who was born and raised in California, I have been prayerfully anticipating this historic occasion for many years. As he has done with several other Blesseds who died in past centuries and who have been widely honored and venerated by the faithful, Pope Francis has chosen to waive the normal requirement for a second miracle obtained through Father Serra's intercession as the condition of his canonization, thus allowing his cause for sainthood to proceed to its conclusion without further delay.
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Father Junipero Serra, O.F.M. (1713--1784) was the humble and hardworking Franciscan friar who brought the Catholic faith to the native American peoples of California, thus laying the foundation for the state's Catholic culture that is still very much alive today. He was born and raised on the Spanish island of Majorca in the western Mediterranean. As a thirty-six-year-old priest, he answered God's call to become a missionary to the Americas. After some years of ministry with his fellow Franciscans in Mexico and the Baja California peninsula, at the age of fifty-three he was appointed to lead a Spanish expedition that headed north to colonize and evangelize mainland California. There, with God's help, he accomplished what he is most famous for: the founding of the first seven in a chain of twenty-one California mission settlements that stretches along the coastline from San Diego in the south to somewhat north of San Francisco. In addition to teaching the faith and baptizing thousands of native Americans, Father Serra and his fellow Franciscans developed and taught the people valuable techniques in construction, gardening, animal husbandry, agriculture, and irrigation.
Although earthquakes and fires often undid several years' worth of hard manual labor within a few seconds or minutes and not all of the missions were successful, a good number of them did prosper thanks to the patient persevering efforts of the missionaries, and some eventually developed into modern cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. The Spanish missions of the 1700s and early 1800s have left an indelible mark on the religion, culture, art, architecture, and economy of the Golden State. As a boy, my parents took my sister and me to visit many of them including Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, La Purisima Concepcion, San Luis Obispo, San Miguel, San Carlos Borromeo (where Father Serra is buried), and Nuestra Senora de la Soledad.
Some two hundred years after his death, in 1985, Saint John Paul II declared Father Serra "Venerable." That same year, in recognition of his remarkable achievements, the U.S. Postal Service issued a special 44-cent USAirmail stamp in Father Serra's honor, which featured a portrait of the legendary friar centered between an outline of the California and Baja California coast on his left and the façade of Mission San Gabriel on his right. He was beatified by John Paul II on September 25, 1988. Later this year, thanks to Pope Francis, California will finally have its own patron saint and the Church will have another great missionary role model and intercessor for the New Evangelization.
Blessed (soon to be Saint) Junipero Serra, pray for us!
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