A New Statue of Saint Junípero Serra and its Reminder to Always Move Forward
Almost two years ago when Pope Francis visited our country, he canonized one of the greatest Catholic missionaries in this continent’s history, Father Junípero Serra, during an outdoor Mass held on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. More recently, on Pentecost Sunday, it was my great pleasure to bless a new statue of Saint Junípero placed next to that spot where our Holy Father celebrated the first canonization in the United States.
Representing the state of California, the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol includes a statue of Junípero Serra, as well. It is hard to imagine another person who has left such an impact on any state in the Union as has this quiet, modest, faith-filled Franciscan. In fact, in a Mass at the Pontifical North American College in May of 2015, Pope Francis called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”
A native of Spain, the Franciscan priest was a teacher who at the age of 36 left the classroom in his home country to become a missionary in the New World, answering Christ’s call to bring the Gospel to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Saint Junípero is credited with making his way on foot, up and down the coast of California founding and overseeing mission after mission, whose names continue to dot the landscape. The first mission was established on July 16, 1769, in San Diego. The 900-mile journey there was hard and many in the expedition died along the way. It is estimated that during his ministry, Saint Junípero baptized approximately 6,000 of the native peoples and confirmed about 5,000.
At the Mass at the North American College, the first pope from the Americas prayed that “the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received [and] that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God.” Likewise, during the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis called us to walk in the power of our own Baptism and to keep constantly focused on our mission. He urged us, “Siempre adelante,” always forward, citing the motto of Saint Junípero.
As we celebrate his feast day today and always, may the statue of Saint Junípero Serra serve as a reminder of the power of the Spirit, the challenge of missionary discipleship and the witness of human holiness. May we feel in our heart the same excitement for the Gospel, the same power of the Spirit, and the same zeal for souls that calls us “siempre adelante,” always moving forward in the Lord.