(RNS) Pope Francis said Thursday (Jan. 15) that he plans to canonize the 18th-century Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra when he visits the U.S. in September, an indication that the pontiff may be mulling a stop near the U.S.-Mexico border on what was projected to be an East Coast tour.
“In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States, who was the evangelizer of the West of the United States,” he told reporters aboard the plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila on the second leg of his Asian tour.
Serra was a missionary from Spain who established a series of missions in what is now California. It would be customary for the pope to hold the Mass officially recognizing Serra’s sainthood where the missionary worked and died.
There has been no official announcement of Francis’ itinerary during the September trip, which will be his first to the U.S., but it has been widely expected that he would visit New York and speak at the United Nations, as well as Washington, D.C., and then Philadelphia to mark the church’s World Meeting of Families, which concludes on Sept. 27.
Serra, who was born on the Spanish island of Majorca in 1713, led one of the first Franciscan missions in San Diego, where he lived most of his life before dying at a mission in Carmel near Monterey in 1784.
Francis called Serra “a great evangelizer” and as he has done several other times, the pope cleared the way for declaring Serra a saint by waiving the usual requirement of a second confirmed miracle.
YS/MG END GIBSON