The following comes from a May 2 LA Times article by Harriet Ryan:
Pope Francis weighed in on a thorny topic in California history Saturday when he spoke at length at a Rome Mass about Father Junipero Serra, the controversial California mission founder set to become America’s first Latino saint later this year.
Addressing an audience that included many American priests, including Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the pope referred to the 18th century Franciscan priest as “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts and privileges of his native Spain to spread the Christian message in the New World.
“I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God,” Francis said during a homily at Rome’s American seminary, the Pontifical North American College.
Francis will formally declare Serra a saint in September during the Washington, D.C., leg of his first visit to the United States. Although the Vatican has canonized Americans before, Serra will be the first saint canonized on U.S. soil.
In California, Serra has been criticized by native American activists for his role in a Spanish colonial system that mistreated and displaced indigenous people, and some have accused him of forcing people to convert to Catholicism. The state Senate voted last month to replace a statue of Serra in the U.S. Capitol with astronaut Sally Ride.
Francis did not address directly the controversy in his remarks, but he said the priest was among missionaries “who brought the Gospel to the New World and, at the same time, defended the indigenous people against abuses by the colonizers.”