Pope Francis to Honor Junípero Serra at U.S. Seminary in Rome

The Holy Father will be the guest of honor at a May 2 day of prayer and reflection on the life of the Spanish missionary at the Pontifical North American College.

Statue of Blessed Junípero Serra at the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego
Statue of Blessed Junípero Serra at the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego (photo: Wikipedia/Bernard Gagnon)

VATICAN CITY — Since Pope Francis won’t make it to California for the canonization of its great evangelizer, he will join a celebration at Rome’s American seminary to honor the soon-to-be saint and encourage devotion to him.

The Holy Father will be the guest of honor at a May 2 day of prayer and reflection on the life of Blessed Junípero Serra, set to be held at the Pontifical North American College, according to the program sent out with invitations to the event.

Francis will be joined by seminarians attending the college, as well as the American cardinals currently residing in Rome.

Among them are Cardinals Raymond Burke, James Harvey, J. Francis Stafford and Edwin O'Brien.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet will preside over the event as the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles will also be there as a representative of the episcopate in California, and Archbishop John Myers will be present as chairman of the board of the NAC.

A morning full of talks includes an initial greeting and welcome from North American College rector, Msgr. James Checchio. Capuchin Father Vincenzo Criscuolo will then speak on the life of the new saint, in particular his “path to holiness.”

Father Criscuolo is an official in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and is inspired personally, as Blessed Serra himself was to the Franciscan spirituality.

Archbishop Gomez will deliver a speech on the religious origins of America, and longtime Curia member and layman Guzman Carriquiry will comment on the canonization of Father Junípero Serra in light of St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Americas, called “Ecclesia in America.”

The supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, will finish with a talk on “Our Lady of Guadalupe, mother and guide of Fra Junípero Serra, patron of the American continent.”

Once the morning encounter is finished, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with the seminarians and staff of the NAC, as well as priests from Casa Santa Maria, who study in Rome and priests from Villa Stritch who work in the Vatican.

Lunch will then be served at seminary; however, the Pope will not attend.

A news conference for the visit is scheduled to take place in the Holy See Press Office on April 20.

Pope Francis announced his plan to canonize “the Evangelizer of the West” in January while on board Sri Lankan Air Flight UL4111 on the way to Manila.

Blessed Junípero, a Franciscan priest, lived in what is now California in the 1700s. Born on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca in 1713, he was the missionary who founded the first nine of 21 eventual missions in California. Many of the missions became the centers of major cities like San Diego.

Father Serra worked tirelessly with the American Indians and is said to have baptized more than 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. He was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1988.

Though an official program still has not been announced, Pope Francis is expected to canonize Blessed Serra in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in September.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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