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Sept. 21, 2015
The journey begins

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Sept. 22, 2015
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Despite huge crowd,
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Sept. 25, 2015
on St. Serra

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placeholder September 21, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Papal Visit • September 25, 2015

Security is tight in Philadelphia as it prepares to greet Pope Francis.

Reflections on St. Serra

Very Rev. George Mockel

The canonization of St. Junipero Serra has given me an opportunity to reflect a bit about him. It is no big secret that the announcement by the Holy Father of his decision to declare Serra a saint came as a surprise.

What motivated this decision?

Perhaps a few thoughts about Serra and the early missionary movement in our country will help. Pope Francis has called Serra "one of the founding fathers of the United States." Anyone who attended fourth grade in a California elementary school certainly learned about the missions and the mission era.

While we often hear about our history beginning at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, the fact is that a century earlier missionaries were already brining the Gospel to places that are now Florida, Texas and California.

Missionaries, like Serra, laid the philosophical and spiritual foundations for the eventual nation that would have a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, religion and human dignity. A constitution that acknowledges that these rights come from the Creator and not from the generosity of the state. Our founders believed that religious faith and values were essential to democratic institutions and human rights.

After a short and promising academic career, Serra decided to become a missionary and spent nearly 40 years spreading the Gospel and laying the foundation for a civil society first in Mexico, then in California.

Perhaps Serra's canonization teaches us a few things.

First declaring someone a saint does not mean they were perfect at all times, nor does it countenance every single action of the person’s life, especially as they are viewed from the vantage point of subsequent history. It does mean that they led a holy and heroic life.

Secondly Serra was someone with extraordinary courage and at personal cost, went out to the periphery of his time to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally perhaps the canonization is an invitation from Pope Francis to recover the roots of our own national history, and essential identity.

(Father Mockel is vicar general of the Diocese of Oakland and pastor at Santa Maria Parish in Orinda.)

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