Pope Francis made good Wednesday on a vow to welcome Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan friar and founder of California missions, into sainthood.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church canonized Serra during his visit to the United States at a well-attended mass in Washington, D.C.
Serra is credited with bringing Catholicism to California by establishing nine missions between San Diego and San Francisco.
Father Charles Talley of the Santa Barbara Mission was on hand for the canonization, and a local celebration of Serra’s work will take place at the mission church’s 11 a.m. mass Sunday, where all are welcome.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have a local tie,” said fellow mission pastor Father Larry Gosselin.
“We want this to be a moment of grace for everybody.”
Serra was present when El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara was founded in 1782, but Santa Barbara Mission was established after his death in 1786 as the 10th California mission.
As head of the order in California, Serra baptized thousands of Indians before he died in 1784 at age 71, according to Fr. Ken Laverone, a Sacramento pastor and champion of Serra’s sainthood for more than a decade.
The decision to name Serra a saint was controversial, since Serra’s critics point to a history of driving thousands of native Indians out in his quest to spread Christianity.
Laverone defended Serra’s so-called colonization of the Western world to Noozhawk earlier this year, saying it would be difficult to just his actions from a 21st-century perspective.
Pope Francis also waived a key requirement of sainthood, which is performing two miracles.
Serra was beatified in 1988 after his first miracle of healing a woman with Lupus was verified, meaning he was one step away from sainthood, Laverone said.
The Franciscan friar also has a large religious following, another requirement.
The pope has repeatedly highlighted three critical aspects to Serra’s life that make him saint worthy — his missionary zeal, Marian devotion and his witness.
Serra established nine missions in California: San Diego de Alcalá, San Antonio de Padua in Jolon, San Gabriel Arcángel, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco de Asís, Santa Clara de Asís, San Buenaventura and San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, where he had a headquarters and where he is buried.