Pope Francis Canonizes Junipero Serra As Catholic Saint

Coburn Palmer

Pope Francis made history Wednesday when he canonized Junipero Serra, the newest Catholic saint, during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Canonization of the 18th century Franciscan friar, credited with spreading Christianity in California and founding the historic chain of missions still standing today, is intended to mobilize Catholic Latinos and encourage evangelism, according to the Huffington Post.

"For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life... we declare and define Blessed Junipero Serra to be a saint and we enroll him among the saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole church."

Serra's canonization is the first on U.S. soil, but not everyone is happy about it, however, as Native Americans accuse Serra of being responsible for the death and torture of tens of thousands.

Indians who joined the mission system were forced to changed their clothes, culture and language as they were assimilated by the Spanish in forced labor under harsh conditions.

Ron Andrade, director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission told the Washington Post he was disappointed by the church's decision.

"This pope doesn't really care what we think. I don't know what he is hoping to accomplish with canonizing Serra. There were better people. Cesar Chavez would get more attention than this Father Serra."

The church says it chose to make Serra the newest saint partly because of his role as a founding father of America. His statue is on display at the U.S. capitol where each state is only allowed two.

Pope Francis is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress Thursday, before flying to New York to address the United Nations.

[Photos by Rob Carr/Getty Images]