Pope Francis will canonize the first Hispanic who served in lands now part of the United States, Junípero Serra, on September 23 in Washington, D.C. Father Serra was a Franciscan missionary from Mallorca, Spain who founded the first Spanish missions in California before the United States even existed as a nation. Like all God’s holy ones, the life of Saint Junípero teaches us that the reason for our existence is to become saints. The saints accompany us on our journey from earth to our true home in heaven. On this journey they assist us in two primary ways: (a) they are intercessors who pray for us to God and (b) they are models of holiness we are called to imitate.

What are the virtues of Saint Junípero we are called to imitate? In a homily given at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Pope Francis presented three important aspects of his life. First is his missionary zeal. Father Serra left a comfortable life as a distinguished professor in Spain to cross an ocean and never return, all for the sake of preaching Jesus Christ to native peoples who had never heard his name. Pope Francis constantly urges us to live like Father Serra as missionary disciples who announce the Gospel with our words and with our deeds.

the-virgin-mary-874005_640Second is Saint Junípero’s devotion to Mary. The Holy Father recalled in his homily that Father Serra consecrated his life and his missionary service to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Serra asked her to open his heart and the hearts of those he evangelized to accept her son Jesus Christ. Mary of Guadalupe’s maternal love continues to beckon us to entrust ourselves to her and her son as Saint Junípero did.

His third important attribute is his witness of holiness. Father Serra was known for his humility, prayerfulness, charity, and penitential spirit. He was renowned for his preaching, which flowed from his own profound faith. Pope Francis said in his homily that Serra was able to share with others “the gift of encountering Christ” because it was “a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty.” Both Serra and the Holy Father show us that holiness is the birthplace of missionary zeal: we can only share with others the treasure that we have already opened ourselves to receive.

Let us join in prayer with Pope Francis that Our Lady of Guadalupe, Junípero Serra, and all the saints intercede for us and inspire in us the missionary zeal, devotion, and holiness that will lead us to our heavenly home.


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