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Pope Francis Tells American Seminary Blessed Junipero Serra Is One of America's "Founding Fathers"

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Diane Montagna - published on 05/05/15

Praises Franciscan's missionary zeal

VATICAN CITY — As a prelude to his highly anticipated apostolic visit to the United States in September, Pope Francis on Saturday visited Rome’s American seminary, the Pontifical North American College. There he celebrated Holy Mass and preached on the life and sanctity of the 18th century friar he is set to canonize, the Spanish missionary priest, Fra Junípero Serra. 

Pope Francis’ visit concluded a day of reflection titled “Fra Junípero Serra: Apostle of California, and Witness to Sanctity,” organized by the North American College, the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, with the support of the Knights of Columbus.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Oullet, Head of the Holy See’s Commission for Latin America, said the Pope’s visit to the seminary on Saturday was a way for Americans “publicly to begin receiving Pope Francis on his historic visit to the United States.”

“This was a beautiful and significant premise to my apostolic journey to the United States,” Francis said on Saturday.

In his homily, the pontiff said that Fra Junípero Serra’s work to bring the Gospel to the New World, and his defense of the indigenous people recalls the first “12 Franciscan apostles,” who were “pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico.” Fr. Serra, he said, “ushered in a new springtime of evangelization” in those territories extending from Florida to California,” which had been reached by Spanish missionaries 200 years before, “long before the Mayflower reached the North Atlantic coast.” 

He also focused on three key aspects of Junípero Serra’s life: his missionary zeal, his Marian devotion and his witness of holiness.

Pope Francis noted that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was and has been present in the twenty-one missions that Fra Junípero founded along the coast of California. “Since then,” he said, “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.”

In speaking of his holiness, he called ​Fra 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,” he said, “may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.” 

Pope Francis was warmly received by the seminarians, priests and Rector of the Pontifical North American College. The “NAC,” as it is popularly called in Rome, is known for its dedication to the  Successor of Peter. It has been at capacity enrollment for four years straight, and has a waiting list for the upcoming academic year — a sign, in part, of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s witness, influence, and encouragement to young men to respond to the Lord’s call to the priesthood. 

Saturday’s event served also as a prelude to the warm welcome Pope Francis is expected to receive when he visits the US. At present, the Pope’s scheduled events include the canonization of Fra Junípero Serra on the campus of Catholic University of America in Washington, DC; the opening of a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York; attendance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and a highly anticipated address to a joint session of the United States Congress.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, told Aleteia after the event that he expects Pope Francis, whom he called “the most important spokesman worldwide on this subject,” to speak out strongly on religious liberty during his visit. Anderson also noted that he expects the Pope to address the current US Supreme court battle over the redefinition of marriage and other “current problems in Western society”.

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