The ceremony in Washington. | ANDREW CABELLERO R/POOL


Pope Francis has proclaimed the first Hispanic saint of the United States, Fray Junipero Serra, at a mass ceremony during which he said that the Majorcan Franciscan friar had sought to defend the dignity of the native people that he evangelised. He defended their dignity, “protecting them from many who had abused them,” the Pope said of the new saint, one of the “founding fathers” of the United States and the only Spaniard in Washington’s National Statuary Hall.

The Pope referred to the controversy that had arisen at the time of Serra’s beatification in 1988 and the claims by descendants of cruelty levelled at the founder of missions where Native Americans had been converted to Christianity. “He had a motto that inspired his every step and moulded his life: ‘always go forward and never go back’.  This was the way by which Junipero found the experience the joy of the Gospel,” and he was the “embodiment of a church moving forward.” “He came to know about their land, their customs, and he blazed trails, getting to learn about and respect their ways of life.” Serra defended the native people and protected them from “mistreatment that today provokes disgust.”

The canonisation ceremony was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and it was attended by some 25,000 people, many of whom were Hispanic. Regarding the canonisation, the Pope said that in January he had decided to elevate Junipero to what is called an “equivalent canonisation,” in other words one that is because of popular veneration rather than the proof of a miracle. In Petra, more than 300 residents from the town and neighbouring towns watched the canonisation on a giant screen in the parish church. The celebrations had started earlier, with bells having been rung at midday, followed by the raising of flags. Houses, decorated with flags bearing the image of Father Junipero, were further signs of the special day for Petra. It was a day of pride and of importance for the people of the town, which now has the honour of being only the second in which a Majorcan saint was born (Valldemossa is the other for Saint Catalina Thomàs).