Hours after Pope Francis was officially welcomed to the United States at a White House ceremony, the pontiff made his way to Washington's Brookland neighborhood and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the canonization mass of Junípero Serra.
Serra, a Spanish, Franciscan priest, founded nine of California's 21 missions in the 1700s and was responsible for most of the spread of Catholicism to the new world. Earlier in the day, some people waited for about 90 minutes to get in the secure area via metal detectors, but by noon lines were hours long to attend the ceremony. Eliane Lakam, who is originally from Cameroon and is a student at Prince George's Community College in Maryland, said the wait was worth it. "It's not every day we get to do something like this," Lakam said. "I'm so blessed to be here."
By the time the popemobile arrived, the wait was all but forgotten with the sun beaming down, a cool breeze and the pontiff driving through the crowd and waving to its delight.
Across the continent, Catholics gathered to watch the scene. In Southern California at the Mission San Juan Capistrano -- the last intact place of worship where Serra celebrated Mass -- people piled in to watch the canonization on a big screen.
To Serra supporters — including the pope — his ministry made the case for his sainthood, despite the church’s subjugation at the time of California’s native peoples. Some historians say it’s unfair to judge Serra through the lens of modern morals and standards. When indigenous tribes were viewed as subhuman by Spanish settlers, Serra saw their intrinsic dignity, supporters argued.
Critics point to the darker side of the legacy of Spanish colonialism that destroyed the culture of Native Americans and enslaved those they tried to convert.
But the question of sainthood or not is now moot, and the pope is now on to next task at hand, addressing a joint meeting of Congress Thursday.
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