Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has been a wonderful Catholic moment. From his address to Congress to his presence at the World Meeting of Families, from his homily at Ground Zero to his meeting with the poor in Harlem, the Pope has been a breath of fresh air in communicating the challenging power and exuberant joy of our faith. In a particular local way, the canonization of St. Junípero Serra marked a historic celebration. For the first time in Church history, a saint was canonized on American soil. For the first time, the Church has recognized a saint whose primary ministry took place in California. In his homily announcing St. Junípero’s canonization, Pope Francis articulated the reasons why devotion to St. Junípero is particularly important for us today. St. Junípero’s “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 200 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 21 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, the shared roots of this continent. 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.”
“Thirdly, brothers and sisters, let us contemplate the witness of holiness given by Friar Junípero. He was 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 may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.”
(Fr. Tim Conlan, O.P., pictured here serving in Guatemala. As we pray to St. Junípero, may we also pray for the missionaries currently serving God’s people around the world.)