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Why Junipero Serra Matters Today


Pope Francis could have skipped the controversy, but had very good reasons to canonize the Franciscan.

The upcoming canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra in Washington, D.C.—the first ever to take place on American soil—has generated, as I’m sure you know, a good deal of controversy. For his defenders, Padre Serra was an intrepid evangelist and a model of Gospel living, while for his detractors, he was a shameless advocate of an oppressive colonial system that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Indians. Even many who typically back Pope Francis see this canonization as a rare faux pas for the Argentine Pontiff. What should we make of all this?

It might first be wise to rehearse some of the basic facts of Serra’s life. He was born in 1713 on the beautiful island of Mallorca off of the Spanish coast, and as a very young man, he joined a particularly severe branch of the Franciscan order. He quickly became a star in the community, recognized for his impressive intellectual gifts and his profound spirituality. After many years of study, he earned his doctorate in philosophy and commenced a teaching career, which culminated in his receiving the Duns Scotus Chair of philosophy.

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