CARMEL, Calif. – What makes a man a saint? Is it a life of perfection, total holiness and piety?
For this frail, small and sickly man, it took a walking staff, hundreds of miles, and a resolute spirit and this man will soon become a saint.
In this Catholic mission stands the legacy of blessed Junipero Serra.
His was a life of sacrifice abandoning what could have been a flourishing life in the clergy in Mallorca, Spain to bring Catholicism to Mexico City, and eventually, in California walking hundreds of miles despite illness and an injured leg to baptize thousands of people into the Catholic Church.
“He had a serious leg injury, it was painful for him to walk, he could have stayed home but that was how he made his way up north to fulfill this stupendous task,” said theologian Bill Ditewig.
His upcoming canonization has brought the faithful to the Carmel mission wanting to see the humble room where Rev. Serra lived and died, a cell so small it’s been described prison-like, a testament to his vow of poverty.
His grave lies within the basilica, in view of the altar and the relics from the simple redwood casket used for his interment.
But Rev. Serra’s story is far from perfect with some critics saying he was part of the colonial system that abused indigenous peoples and punished those who did not assimilate.
Theologians says Pope Francis’ move to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra sends a message that saints are human just like us, often conflicted, but they rise above their flaws to reach out to others in love and service.
While in Bolivia in July Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.
He also said while there was sin, there was also an abundance of grace because of men who defended indigenous peoples.
On September 23rd, Pope Francis will canonize Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.
This is the first time a pope will perform the ceremony on U.S. soil elevating to sainthood a man who built god’s church on the palm of his hands.