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Pope Is Expected to Decide Soon on Beatifying Serra

Times Staff Writer

Pope John Paul II will decide soon whether to approve beatification, the second of three steps to sainthood, for Father Junipero Serra, according to Father Noel Francis Moholy, Serra’s principal church advocate in the United States.

Medical and theological panels at the Vatican decided earlier this month that a St. Louis nun was cured of a serious ailment 27 years ago as a result of praying to Serra for divine intercession, Moholy said.

If papal approval is granted, the Pope will beatify Serra, known as “the Apostle of California,” at a special Mass at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey on Sept. 17.

Immediately after the Mass, the Pope is scheduled to travel by helicopter to the Carmel Mission, where Serra is buried, to pray at the grave and give a short talk on evangelization.

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Ted Elisee, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Monterey, said he had no news of the beatification from the Vatican but called Moholy “a good, informed source.”

Serra founded nine of a string of Franciscan missions between San Diego and San Francisco, including Carmel, before his death in 1784. In 1985, the Pope declared Serra “venerable"--the first of the three steps to sainthood--a designation that proclaims that the Majorca-born missionary “lived a life of heroic virtue.”

For a candidate to advance from the venerable stage to beatification, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints must find that one miracle occurred as a result of the candidate’s intercession. A second miracle is required for cannonization, although the Pope can dispense with either of the miracle requirements.

According to Moholy, whose official title is vice postulator of the Serra cause, the full medical panel appointed by the congregation met July 8 and voted unanimously that there was no scientific explanation for the healing of Sister Boniface Dryda, who prayed for Serra’s help 27 years ago.

The nun was suffering from a serious case of lupus, a disease of the connective tissues, and was so ill that she was administered the church’s last rites.

On July 23, said Moholy, who just returned from Rome, a board of theologians considering the nun’s recovery ruled that only “recourse to a supernatural or heavenly intervention” could account for her survival.

Normally, the full congregation of 32 cardinals and bishops would consider the theologians’ finding and then vote on a recommendation for the Pope, Moholy said. However, with the Pope’s U.S. visit drawing near, Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, the prefect of the congregation, wrote directly to the Pontiff, suggesting that he dispense with a full assembly of the congregation and make the final decision.

“We’re anticipating a decision by the end of this week,” Moholy said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. “I expect the Pope to dispense with the congregation (requirement) and announce the beatification.”

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Some American Indians have spoken out against the beatification of Serra because they say the missionaries mistreated and exploited the California Indians.


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