In a surprise addition to his fall 2015 trip to the U.S., Pope Francis is planning to make the founder of California's first missions a saint.
"In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States," declared Pope Francis aboard Sri Lankan Air Flight UL4111 on his way to Manila, Philippines.
Blessed Serra, a priest, lived in modern-day California in the 1700s. A Spanish-born Franciscan missionary, he founded the first nine of 21 eventual missions in California. He worked tirelessly with the American Indians there. He is said to have baptized more than 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000 in his lifetime.
"He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States," Pope Francis declared
Blessed Serra's will be just the latest in a systematic action from Pope Francis to give a boost to evangelization efforts throughout the world.
Just yesterday, he gave Sri Lanka its first saint, in the Indian-born Joseph Vaz, who lived from 1651 to 1711. He applauded Vaz for his tireless missionary work and ability to evangelize in difficult terrain.
"We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, of St. Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace, which has the power to build them up," Pope Francis said at Mass.
As he has with others, Pope Francis forewent the requirement for the verification of a miracle to advance the cause for sainthood, canonizing St. Joseph to the cheers of more than 500,000 people on the Colombo beachfront.
Italy's St. Angela di Foligno, what is now France's St. Peter Faber, Brazil's St. Jose Anchieta and Canada's St. François de Laval and Marie of the Incarnation have all been canonized similarly in the last two years for being evangelizers of their times, said the Pope.
This method of "equipollent" canonization, that is, without the verification of a miracle and by express order of the Pope, is used when, "in practice, this person is venerated as a saint," said Pope Francis.
"Thus, the miracle process is not carried out. These are people who, for centuries, perhaps, are in this way [declaring holiness by their lives]," he explained to the press corps on the flight.
"These are people who did a lot of evangelization and who are in keeping with the spirality and theology of Evangelii Gaudium. That's the reason I chose them."
Pope Francis did not specify the date for the canonization Mass in September or where it will take place.
The dates are not yet official for his stay in the U.S., but he has said that he will be in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Organizers are expecting him for the final Mass on Sept. 27 and say he could be there for events from Sept. 25-27.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin of the Vatican's Secretariat of State told reporters on Jan. 6 that stops in New York City and Washington, though also not confirmed, are being examined.