Very few people can live in isolation. We generally do better when we have people around to talk to, share stories with, and support us. I feel this is especially true when it comes to faith and religion. Here, I will attempt to share my thoughts and reflect on my spiritual journey -- I know this will further strengthen my faith, and I hope this will positively influence yours as well. - CradleCatholic2.0
Many Bay Area natives can say that, having traveled on his freeway (the “World’s Most Beautiful Freeway”) near San Francisco State University, taken a picture in front of his statue at Mission Delores (San Francisco’s oldest building), or shopped (maybe for a car?) at his businesses at Serramonte near Colma-Daly City. You can even find him at Golden Gate Park.
His name is well known to Californians. He is so revered that the Legislature nominated him to be one of the two statues representing the state at the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. He is called the Apostle of California.
Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) was an intellectually brilliant, hard-working, and humble Franciscan friar who launched many of the 21 early-California missions that became modern Golden State cities (including San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego). He was a missionary who is credited with bringing the Catholic faith to Native Americans and teaching people techniques in agriculture, animal husbandry, and construction that would help California prosper.
“He sowed the seeds of Christian faith amid the momentous changes wrought by the arrival of European settlers in the New World,” Pope John Paul II said at Junipero Serra’s 1988 Beatification Ceremony. “It was a field of missionary endeavor that required patience perseverance and humility, as well as vision and courage.”
Junipero Serra became a figure for evangelization.
“He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life,” Pope Francis said in his homily during the 2015 Canonization Mass in Washington, D.C. Junipero Serra “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”
Junipero Serra is the first saint to be canonized on U.S. soil.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia on New Advent, Father Junipero Serra was unrelenting in converting, baptizing, and confirming more than 5,300 Native Americans during the fourteen years from 1770. He suffered intensely from a crippled leg and from his chest, yet he would not use any remedies. He traveled from San Diego to San Francisco – six hundred miles – so he could minister to missionaries and converts. He traveled to Mexico City to meet with the military commander to establish rules to protect the Native Americans and the missions.
“Besides extraordinary fortitude, his most conspicuous virtues were insatiable zeal, love of mortification, self-denial, and absolute confidence in God,” noted the Catholic Encyclopedia entry.
The missions are some of the most visited tourist attractions today. California continues to have a large Roman Catholic following: 28% of the population say they are Catholics, the largest religious denomination in the state. Its 12 dioceses and two archdioceses includes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the United States.
Pope Francis called him “the embodiment of ‘a church which goes forth’, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.”
St. Junipero Serra’s feast day is celebrated on July 1. He is the patron saint of religious vocations, Hispanic Americans, and – of course – California.
By the way, the first mass at Mission Dolores/Mission San Francisco de Asis was celebrated on June 29, 1776, days before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Happy Fourth of July! And, pray for us, St. Junipero Serra!