In a surprise announcement on his plane trip to Manila Thursday, Pope Francis said that he is planning to canonize the founder of California’s first missions and the father of the California wine industry when he visits the US next fall.
“In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States,” declared the Pope. “He was the evangelizer of the west in the United States.”
Father Junipero Serra was a Spanish-born Franciscan missionary who lived in modern-day California in the 1700s. Serra founded the first nine of 21 eventual missions in California, including missions in present-day San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco. Because of this, he has come to be known in some circles as California’s Founding Father.
Father Serra worked tirelessly with the Native Americans and is said to have baptized more than 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000 in his lifetime. This has sparked some polemics because of his zealous proselytizing, and some groups of Native Americans protested his beatification by Pope John Paul in 1988.
Junipero Serra also bears the title of the “Father of California Wine” because in 1779, he planted California’s first sustainable vineyard at Mission San Juan Capistrano, and founded the first winery in 1783.
As he established his nine missions along the California coast, Serra took grape vines with him, and planted vineyards in order to make the wine necessary for celebrating the Catholic mass. The Mexican varietal he planted came to be called the Mission grape and dominated California wine production until about 1880.
Francis is going ahead and making Father Serra a saint despite the fact that technically a verified miracle would be necessary for this step, though the Pope has the authority to dispense with this requirement. He did the same thing for Wednesday’s canonization of Father Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s first recognized saint.
The Pope explained to the press corps that 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,” Francis said.
“Thus, the miracle process is not carried out. These are people who for centuries, perhaps, are in this state,” he explained during the flight to the Philippines.
“I have decided to canonize these people who did so much for evangelization and who exemplify the evangelizing spirit of ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’” he said.
Francis did not specify the date in September for the canonization Mass or say where it will be held. He has said he will attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which takes place from Sept. 25-27, and also expressed his wish to visit Washington DC and New York at that time.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome