Prior to embarking on his first Apostolic Visit to the US in September, Pope Francis noted that the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, like those of other American saints, speak to the deep spiritual roots and holiness of America.
During his homily at Mass, at his first ever visit to Rome’s Pontifical North American College Saturday afternoon, the Holy Father noted that just as the earliest disciples left Jerusalem and went forth, many missionaries left their lands to bring the Gospel to the New World. Blessed Junipero Serra was among them, and he “defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers.”
Serra’s work of evangelization, the Pope said, “reminds us of the first “12 Franciscan apostles” who were pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico.”
Blessed Junipero Serra, the Pontiff said, “ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous two hundred years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain.”
This, the Argentine Pope pointed out, was long before the pilgrims of the Mayflower reached the North Atlantic coast.
He then went on to discuss three key aspects of the life and example of Friar Junípero: his missionary zeal, Marian devotion and witness of holiness.
First of all, Francis said, Junipero was a tireless missionary. who had that “heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ”
Like Paul and Barnabas and the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, Francis said, Serra was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord.
“Such zeal,” the first Pope of the Americas said, “excites us, it challenges us!” Missionary disciples, so moved by the Holy Spirit, to go out to all geographical, social and existential peripheries,“challenge us!”
“I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy.”
Friar Junípero’s witness , the Pope noted, calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent.
Mary Is Inseparable From American Hearts
Secondly, the Pope said, Blessed Junípero entrusted his missionary activity to the Blessed Virgin Mary, noting how, before leaving for California, he wanted to consecrate his life to Our Lady of Guadalupe and ask her for the grace to open the hearts of the colonizers and indigenous peoples.
Pope Francis noted how the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was and has been present in the 21 missions that Friar Junípero founded along the coast of California. Since then, he noted, “Our Lady of Guadalupe has become, in fact, the Patroness of the whole American continent.”
“You cannot separate her from the hearts of the American people,” Francis said, “She represents our shared roots in this land.”
“Indeed, today’s mission to the continent is entrusted to her, the first, holy missionary disciple, a constant presence and companion, our source of comfort and hope. For she always hears and protects her American children.”
The third aspect, he invited those gathered to contemplate, was the witness of holiness given by Friar Junípero, “one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country.”
“In this way, may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church,” Francis prayed, calling to mind various American saints.
“There has been so much holiness in America – so much holiness sown!”
The Holy Father concluded, praying, “May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas during the coming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” and asking the Lord that “the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God” and that “this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor.”
“With this heartfelt prayer, I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, Friar Junípero and all the American saints to lead me and guide me during my approaching apostolic journeys to South America and North America.”
While Blessed Junipero Serra, or the “Apostle of California,” has been praised for bringing his evangelical efforts in the Americas, has a controversial record. Some accuse him of having mistreated Native Americans, but many rush to his defense, including those present Saturday, including Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, and Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, who gave accounts as to why such depictions are not valid.
The day of reflection brought together various American prelates, such as, but not limited to, the president of US bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Washington DC, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Cardinal James Harvey. The day began with a series of interventions on the soon-to-be canonized saint, followed by Mass, presided over by Pope Francis in the seminary’s chapel, and concluded with a lunch.
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