When Pope Francis canonizes Junípero Serra during his trip to the US this September, he will be sending an important message to immigrants, says Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles.
The prelate said this when he spoke with ZENIT on Saturday from Rome’s Pontifical North American College, where a day of reflection was held on the life of the missionary known as the Apostle of California.
“We are very happy that the Holy Father is coming to the United States and that he is going to canonize Junípero Serra,” the archbishop said. “We invited him to visit California, but he explained to me that it is difficult for him due to the timing. He prefers his trips to be short, about a week or so. So he explained he’s sorry, but he cannot make it to California. But still for us Junípero Serra is a founder of California. So we are very happy the Holy Father will canonize him in America in September.”
“The people of California are starting to understand better how important he is in the foundation of our country,” Archbishop Gomez added, “because the founding of our country [came about with] the pilgrims in the Northeast and the Latinos coming to the Southwest.”
A clear manifestation of his impact, he noted, is the naming of California’s cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego.
“It’s a beautiful reminder to all of us, of all those missionaries, and especially Junípero Serra, who really gave his life for bringing the joy of the Gospel to the people of California.”
Speaking on what this means to Latin American and other immigrants, Archbishop Gomez said, “It’s very important, in the first place because in a sense, he was an immigrant.”
“He came from outside the United States to live there for a number of years, to work and minister to the people of California,” he explained. “On the other hand, he reminds us that we Latinos were there too. So it’s not that we arrived just a couple of years ago.”
Responding to anyone who criticizes the missionary for theories which suggest that he did not treat the Native Americans well, Archbishop Gomez said these accusations are leveled primarily out of ignorance, because of not knowing who Junípero Serra was and what he was about.
“If you really look at it, examine his life, we see clearly he was a defender of the Native Americans, against all the abuses and things that were happening at that time. He even made a trip to Mexico, just to fight for his people,” Archbishop Gomez noted.
It is important to get to know him, to have a good understanding of who he was, and why he came to the country, he said. “It is very important that people realize the holy man Junípero Serra was.”