Pope canonizes 18th-century missionary during Mass in Washington

In this photo taken on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, Pope Francis is greeted by faithful as he enters the San Cristobal Cathedral, Havana, Cuba. Francis presided over the evening prayer service in Havana's 18th century cathedral, where he broke from prepared remarks and spoke off-the-cuff at length for the first time during his trip to Cuba. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — In the first canonization on U.S. soil, Pope Francis has elevated to sainthood an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to the American West Coast.

Francis canonized Junipero Serra on Wednesday during a Mass in Washington.

Serra was a Franciscan friar who marched north from Baja California with Spanish conquistadors, establishing nine of the 21 missions in what is now California.

The canonization was polarizing. Serra is revered by Catholics for his missionary work, and many Latinos in the U.S. view his canonization as a badly needed acknowledgment of Hispanics’ role in the American church. But many Native Americans say Serra enslaved converts and contributed to the spread of disease that wiped out indigenous populations.

In July, Francis issued a broad apology for the church’s sins against indigenous peoples.

 

 

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