Thursday, September 24, 2015

Saint Junipero Serra


Just yesterday, Pope Francis canonized St. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan missionary famous for his leadership in establishing the California missions, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

The life of Saint Junipero Serra is a remarkable one that begins in Palma, on the island of Majorca, Spain, where he was born in 1737.  Spanish was actually his second language, growing up in a family that spoke the Majorcan dialect of Catalan.  He joined the Franciscans at the age of 17, and departed for the missions in the New World in 1749.

Statue of St. Junipero Serra in statuary hall in the US Capitol Building.

Despite the ill-effects of a mosquito bite that left him with a swollen leg and his asthma, Saint Junipero served as a missionary and inquisitor in the areas around Mexico City and Guadalajara until his appointment to the California coast in 1768.  Previously missionary territory of the Jesuits, their expulsion by King Charles III opened the area to the Franciscans.  This originally meant simply Baja California in what is now Mexico, but under the direction of Serra, missions would be founded in what is now the State of California.

It was on the California coast, where St. Junipero Serra worked from 1768 until his death in 1784, that he did his most famous work of founding a string of missions up the California coast.  The foundation of the mission at San Diego in 1769 was certainly a great moment in his ministry.

Serra poured out his life to bring the Gospel to the natives of California, often in conflict with civil authorities with far less concern for the good of the locals to whom the missions ministered.  Although his attitude towards the locals, his confidence that they were in need of Christianity and civilization, and his support of a mission system which did much to discipline the native communities, mean that he is a figure of some controversy, it is not without reason that Pope Francis fast-tracked his canonization.  St. Junipero Serra embodies a selfless missionary ideal, and shows clearly that cultural and religious relativism is not compatible with Catholicism and Truth!

For a good article on some of the complexities of the era, you should read: National Catholic Register: Father Junipero Serra's Canonization Provides Chance to Set Record Straight

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
Mission San Carlos: Burial Place of St. Junipero Serra.
["MissionCarmelSEGL2". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

Dying in 1784, St. Junipero Serra is buried at Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel, California, a mission he founded in 1770 south of San Francisco.

For for a brief summary and other details you might note:
Catholics Saints Info: Junipero Serra

For more detailed and comprehensive information on his life:
Official Site, Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Pontifical Commission for Latin America

The Interior of Mission San Carlos
["Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel, CA) - basilica interior, nave" by Nheyob - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

To visit the official website of his burial place, you might note:
Official Site of the Carmel Mission

Live well!