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Junípero Serra, 18th Century Spanish Franciscan, to be First Hispanic Saint in U.S.

First Posted: Apr 21, 2015 04:30 PM EDT
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Junípero Serra

Photo : Roman Catholic Saints

Junípero Serra, the 18th century Spanish Franciscan friar who founded a mission in Baja California and introduced Christianity to a majority of California, will be canonized by Pope Francis in the U.S., despite the outcries of Native Americans who openly accuse the soon-to-be saint of genocide.

The Spanish Franciscan will be the first Hispanic saint in the U.S.

In honor of the Rev. Junipero Serra, the Vatican joined together with the archdiocese of Los Angeles and the main U.S. seminary in Rome to host festivities on May 2 at the North American College.

Serra's peers reportedly believed that the friar was intellectually brilliant, and the church has credited him as a benevolent evangelist, which is why he's earned the recognition of sainthood.

Nonetheless, Native Americans groups assert that Serra enslaved converts, spread disease and murdered countless individuals in order to forcibly impose Christianity on the population. Some members of the Native American community are so avidly against the canonization that they're protesting in California, and are asking for the removal of his statue from Congress' National Statuary Hall.

The Vatican denies claims of genocide, reportedly saying that Serra worked in defense of Native Americans, and pressed for a system of laws to protect Natives Americans from brutal treatment by Spanish soldiers.  Also, instead of viewing him as a slaver or a murderer, the Rev. Vincenzo Criscuolo, a Franciscan at the Vatican's saint-making office, believes that Serra was simply "a man of his time." He's also said to reporters, "It is not to be excluded, but it wasn't 'genocide,' it wasn't a death penalty."

Crusades to remove the statue of Serra from the U.S. Capitol have been denounced. Presently, he's the only person of Spanish descent in the collection. To many, removing the statue would be a great disservice to the Latino community, particularly as Pope Francis, the first Hispanic pope, is set to canonize him on Sept. 23 at the National Shrine in Washington at the beginning of his U.S. trip.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints hasn't officially approved the canonization, but after Pope Francis' announcement in January.

Serra's feast day is celebrated on July 1, and he's considered the patron of vocations.

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