Pope gets ready to make Junipero Serra a saint, but not in California

Tickets for Pope Francis' visit to Washington, D.C., during which he will canonize Junipero Serra during a special Mass.

Tickets for Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., during which he will canonize Junipero Serra during a special Mass.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Junipero Serra came to California in the 18th century and is buried at the mission he established in Carmel.

On Wednesday, Serra officially will be elevated to sainthood in ... Washington, D.C.? What? Wouldn’t one of the missions be a better fit?

Every fourth-grader knows that the Franciscan monk from Spain changed the history of this region by starting the movement to build 21 missions to spread the Catholic faith.


But Pope Francis has no plans to visit the West Coast on his first papal visit to the U.S. this week.

Instead, he will hold a 4:15 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the nation’s capital during which the controversial Serra will be canonized. It will mark the first time a saint has been canonized in the United States, and an estimated 1,800 Californians have been invited to attend.


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OK, the basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest in the world. Nearly a million people visit annually, but only those who have a ticket will be able to attend the Mass on Wednesday.

As in other appearances by the pope this week, free tickets for these events are being distributed through local parishes.

The basilica also has a Serra exhibit on display through Nov. 23, which is free and open to the public.

But back to Serra and his sainthood.

One Los Angeles Times story describes his legacy this way:

“The decision to elevate Serra as an exemplar of piety and faith was met with joy, shock, pain and condemnation — a reflection of the complicated and polarizing legacy left behind in California that persists even centuries after Serra’s 1784 death at the Carmel mission near Monterey. The mission system cemented Catholicism in the state but nearly eradicated several Indian tribes.”

Media reports say Francis may address Serra’s treatment of native peoples and the flawed role of the church in the religious conversions.

Either way, it won’t happen here where it all began.