LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Pope Francis has elevated to sainthood an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to the American West Coast in the first canonization on U.S. soil.
Francis canonized Junipero Serra on Wednesday during a Mass in Washington.
Marking the occasion, ceremonial bell-ringings were held at Mission San Juan Capistrano at 9 a.m. and noon, and visitors were invited to watch the canonization Mass in the Great Stone Church Ruins.
About 1,500 students also gathered locally at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles to celebrate Serra, a Franciscan friar who marched north from Baja California with Spanish conquistadors, establishing nine of the 21 missions in what is now California.
Francis hailed Serra as "the evangelizer of the West in the United States" for his founding of the first nine of California's 21 missions.
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 people.
But Father Tom Elewaut of the San Buenaventura Mission told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO Serra is being canonized for his good works in California.
Elewaut said he's already experienced what he calls a miracle after speaking to a woman from Palm Desert.
"She and her family drove 44 hours without tickets, and happened to stop at a rest stop and saw someone that had a Diocese of San Bernardino insignia," said Elewaut. "This person worked in the bishop's office and said, 'I just happen to have some extra tickets, here you go'."
Serra began his path toward sainthood in 1988 when he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
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