Updated 01:52 AM EST, Mon, Mar 01, 2021

Pope Francis in the USA: Pontiff Canonizes Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra in Washington Ceremony

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Pope Francis canonized Franciscan friar Junípero Serra in a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

Serra, who lived in the 18th century, founded the first Spanish missions in California, Fox News Latino wrote. He first set foot in the state nearly 250 years ago, and is the first one to be granted sainthood in U.S. soil, CNN reported.

"Junipero Serra left his native land and its way of life," Francis said during the canonization Mass at Washington's Catholic University, as quoted by CNN. "He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life."

The pontiff commended how Serra handled the Native Americans living in California back then, adding that the Spanish missionary "sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it," CNN added.

The pope continued, "Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people."

Pope Francis performed the canonization ritual in Latin at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Fox News Latino noted. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 28, 1988.

CNN wrote that Serra's canonization was a moment of pride for Latinos, but was offensive to Native American groups, who protested in Serra's burial site at Carmel Mission. According to Fox News Latino, Serra's missions were heavily criticized by Native Americans for eradicating local Indian cultures and enslaving converts to Catholicism.

Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band located in Monterey Bay, said that Serra did not practice "Jesus Christ lifestyle at the missions," CNN reported. Deborah Miranda, a literature professor and a member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, said that the Spanish missions killed about 90% of the California Indians. Miranda wrote "Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir," a book detailing her ancestors' experiences in the missions.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, on the other hand, said that the pope's canonization of Serra was "the most important dimension" of his first ever U.S. visit, the news outlet added.

Protesters pointed out that Serra's arrival in the U.S. soil in 1769 brought European diseases to the native population, such as syphilis spread by raiding Spanish soldiers, The Guardian wrote. Indians brought in the missions were also prohibited from leaving, and if they attempted to they were beaten and chained up.

Serra was born in Majorca, Spain in 1713 and died in Monterrey, California in 1784, Fox News Latino wrote. He founded 21 missions in San Diego, San Luis Obispo (present-day Los Angeles), San Francisco, and San Juan de Capistrano (Sacramento).

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