- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Franciscan friar who walked thousands of miles to spread Christianity in California some 300 years ago became the first saint to be declared in the United States Wednesday.

“We declare and define Blessed Junipero Serra to be a Saint, and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole Church,” Pope Francis said at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Francis closed the ceremony with a prayer, saying, “O God, who by your ineffable mercy have been pleased through the labors of your priest, Saint Junipero Serra, to count many American peoples within your Church, grant by his intercession that we may so join our hearts to you in love, as to carry always and everywhere before all people the image of your Only Begotten Son.”

Saint Serra, who was born in Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, came to Mexico and the West Coast around 1749.

He founded nine Catholic missions, from San Diego to San Francisco, that gave rise to major cities. He also confirmed some 5,300 people, including many Native Americans, to the faith, and taught them new techniques in farming and building construction.

He is viewed as “the spiritual father of the Western United States,” according to Serra International, which claims Saint Serra as their patron due to his tireless zeal to spread Christianity to the unchurched peoples he met.

While in there has been some criticism of Saint Serra’s treatment of Native Americans, scholars who have pored over his writings and other historical materials believe he was a self-effacing man of good faith who interceded on his flock’s behalf and fought against abuses led by colonial governments and military.

Saint Serra did his major mission work from 1770 until his death at age 70 in 1784.

He was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1988, after having only one of two miracles attributed to him. Church elders said the rest of his devoted life would count as the second miracle.

Saint Serra was especially devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and offered the success of his mission work to her intercession.

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