On January 15, 2015, Pope Francis announced that “God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States, since he was the evangelizer of the western United States.” On September 23, 2015, during his apostolic journey to the U.S., Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Blessed Serra is an important figure in our diocese’s and Bay Area’s history, having overseen the founding of our own Mission Santa Clara de Asís in January, 1777, which, later that year, eventually led to the establishment of El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, now know as the City of San José. Today, Blessed Serra is buried at the second mission he established in California, San Carlos Borromeo, located in the Diocese of Monterey. You might even have spotted a 26-foot tall Father Serra pointing westward over the Pacific Ocean as you drive along highway 280 near Hillsborough.
Blessed Serra’s canonization comes with controversy as well. In an interview with the Catholic News Service, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, Father Michael Perry, said that Father Serra’s missionary activity may have had “unintended consequences” and may have used methods contrary to the “sensibilities of people today.” Acknowledging the debate over Serra’s canonization, Father Perry gave us a good reminder: “I think we need to make sure this canonization is not simply a chance to validate maybe some bad things that happened, but to challenge us always to enter into a process of reform, of conversion and of authentic dialogue with cultures, with peoples everywhere.” Santa Clara University history professor Robert Senkewicz, who has co-written a new biography on Serra, said, “My sense is that people are not canonized because they are perfect—otherwise, presumably, St. Peter would never have been canonized. They are canonized because they made a commitment which, on balance, had more good than non-good associated with it.”
Pope Francis gives us a good context for his decision to elevate Blessed Serra to sainthood in his description of the challenge that missionary disciples like Serra give all Christians:
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 Junipero’s witness calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent…
It is clear that the person who was Father Serra and what he did to follow his call to share the Gospel are a complex reflection of who we are as Church: a sinful yet holy people constantly striving to follow God’s will as best we can in light of our limitations and our strengths, with both our blindness and our zeal to imagine a different kind of world. Jeffrey M. Burns gives us a way to navigate this complexity of our Church’s history, one that is inextricably tied to our own history here in California, in his article, “Serra’s Sainthood: A Cause for Healing or Controversy?”
Let us look for healing. Let us lament what went wrong and to reach out with a healing touch to the many native Californians who still feel burdened by the legacy of the missions. Let us acknowledge the very real pain felt by many Native Americans, and look for ways to move beyond the current controversy….What we celebrate is a man burning with missionary zeal who loved and engaged the native peoples of California. We celebrate the contemporary native Californian Catholic community, who bear witness to this complex history and are, perhaps, Serra’s greatest legacy. At the same time, let us celebrate the heroic efforts of California’s native peoples, who were not merely docile victims but a strong, proud people who were forced to negotiate a complex and at times bewildering new environment.
In preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. and for the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra on September 23, 2015, here are several resources and suggestions for your communities in the Diocese of San Jose.
Catechetical resources on Blessed Junipero Serra
The Archdiocese of Washington has prepared a web page full of resources in preparation for the Pope’s visit, including ready to print tri-fold brochures on Blessed Junipero Serra. See the links below. The Archdiocese has given us gracious permission to distribute and reproduce these brochures in electronic and print format, as long as the brochures remain unmodified. Feel free to distribute the links to your community members and to reprint copies of the brochures as needed. Also check out the Archdiocese of Washington’s excellent website for lots of other resources in English and Spanish connected to the papal visit this September
- Tri-fold brochure on Blessed Junipero Serra (English)
- Tri-fold brochure on Blessed Junipero Serra (Spanish)
- Website on Blessed Junipero Serra from the the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America
- Website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Blessed Junipero Serra
Novena to Blessed Junipero Serra
Did you know that the Serra Club, which encourages all people to respond to God’s call to their vocation in life, especially through the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life, is named after Junipero Serra? The USA Council of Serra International prepared a novena to Junipero Serra that he may be raised to sainthood. With the help of our local chapter of the Serra Club, the Office of Worship has adapted this novena for use during the nine days leading up to Blessed Serra’s canonization. Please feel free to distribute or reprint the text of this novena:
Collect and prayers for Mass on September 23, 2015
On September 23, 2015, during the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis will use the Mass formulary and readings from a Votive Mass in honor of Blessed Junipero Serra. The Collect he will use will be the proper as found on July 1 in the Proper of Saints, but substituting the word “Saint” for “Blessed.” The other prayers for the Mass will come from the Common of Pastors: For Missionaries.
Bishop McGrath gives permission in the Diocese of San Jose for priests to use the Collect for July 1 and the Common of Pastors: For Missionaries, on September 23, 2015, in place of the prayers for Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, if they find it beneficial for the assembly at Mass that day.
Prayer for Blessed Junipero Serra
Below is an original prayer composed for the occasion of the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra. Communities in the Diocese of San Jose have permission to distribute, reproduce, and reprint the prayer as they need. Please include the appropriate copyright information in any copies distributed. You might also consider using this prayer during Mass on September 23 or on the Sunday before or after, if you will be referring to the canonization. It may be used to conclude the homily or the Universal Prayer (general intercessions). This prayer is also provided in Spanish and Vietnamese, with thanks to Lupita Vital and Rev. Hao Dinh for their assistance in translation.