Pope Delivers First Homily, Encourages People to “Keep Moving Forward”

Students gathered in the gym at Junipero Serra High in Gardena to watch live feed of video from Washington, D.C., as Pope Francis granted sainthood to Father Serra on Wednesday September 23, 2015. “I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, numerous hopes and dreams of the American people“, Francis said.


His trip ends Sunday in Philadelphia.

“He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life”, said the pope. Father Serra was also a supporter of the aspirations to independence of the colonies in the East, and he actually took up a collection to send to General George Washington.

“Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the Native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated it and abused it”, Francis said in his homily.

The Catholic Church has portrayed Serra as a protector of Indians and put the blame on the Spanish soldiers who accompanied him. They sat on the grass under the shade of trees, while a constant stream of audio about the pope, his message and the Catholic Church echoed from the stage. I’ve always wanted to see a pope in person.

The pope – who met privately with Native Americans after the Mass – defended Serra but acknowledged the controversy. “Serra did a lot to intercede” for the native population, he said, and it was “a blessing he was there to buffer the consequences of colonization”. While Hispanics view the canonization as a point of pride, some American Indians vehemently object, saying Serra was part of a system that forced religious conversions, suppressed Indian culture and left hundreds of thousands of them dead. A Vatican official told me the pope – for the pope, this is an effort to highlight the role of Catholicism in the founding history of the United States which has been overshadowed by what this official called the Anglo-centric narrative of American history – the idea that it starts with the pilgrims landing in 1620 which ignores that Spanish missionary settlements already exists 50 years earlier in the United States. The other two were Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

Some Native Americans oppose the canonization, however.

“It’s important to me because this event doesn’t happen very often and especially since it’s blessed Junipero Serra, he founded many missions around here”, student Jasmin Abrica said. Roads and schools bear his name, and children study him in class. They say he came to conquer and convert their communities.

“We’re stunned and we’re in disbelief”, Valentin Lopez, chairman of California’s Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, told CNN Wednesday. “I think it’s lovely”.

Latinos make up about 38 percent of US Catholics, but are well above the majority in several dioceses.


Serra is known for establishing the first nine Spanish missions stretching from San Diego to San Francisco in California, giving the Roman Catholic Church a firm foothold in what was then called ‘New Spain.’ Serra died in 1784 at the age of 70 at Carmel in California at the headquarters of his Alta California missions, where he remains interred under the chapel floor.

ReutersUS President Barack Obama greets Pope Francis during the pope's visit to the White House in Washington on Sept. 23 2015