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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

Here below we publish an English translation of the full text of Pope Francis’ homily delivered on Saturday.

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“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47; cf. Is 49:6). These words of the Lord, in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which we have just heard, show us the missionary nature of the Church, sent by Jesus to go out and proclaim the Gospel.  The disciples experienced this from the first moment when, after the persecution broke out, they left Jerusalem (cf. Acts 8: 1-3). This was true also for the many missionaries who brought the Gospel to the New World and, at the same time, defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers. Among these missionaries was Friar Junípero; his work of evangelization reminds us of the first “12 Franciscan apostles” who were pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico. He 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 was long before the pilgrims of the Mayflower reached the North Atlantic coast.

There are three key aspects to the life and example of Friar Junípero: his missionary zeal, his Marian devotion and his witness of holiness.

First of all, he was a tireless missionary. What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty.  Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord. Such zeal excites us, it challenges us! These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity. They challenge us! Sometimes we stop and thoughtfully examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and their shortcomings.

But 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 calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent, which finds its roots in Evangelii Gaudium.

Secondly, Friar Junípero entrusted his missionary activity to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We know that before leaving for California, he wanted to consecrate his life to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to ask her for the grace to open the hearts of the colonizers and indigenous peoples, for the mission he was about to begin. In this prayer we can still see this humble brother kneeling in front of the “Mother of the true God”, the Morenita, who brought her Son to the New World. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was and has been present in the twenty-one missions that Friar Junípero founded along the coast of California. Since then, 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.  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.

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