Here in California, church bells rang across San Francisco at about 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon as Pope Francis formally enrolled Fr. Junipero Serra into the canon of saints. In decades past, when Catholicism was an integral part of California’s culture, Junipero Serra was known as the Founder of California, and even the “Father” of California. How comforting to all of us who love this Golden State, whose public schools still have fourth graders make a model of one of her 22 Missions. California’s deeper culture is still Catholic, thanks to the faith Fr. Serra and his compadres brought 250 years ago. The state’s very liberalism, her love for different cultures and her spirit of adventure, reflect St. Junipero’s own affectionate dedication to the indigenous peoples and fascination with her rugged coasts, valleys, and mountains. Lamentably, however, the authentic liberalism of our Saint has been rather emptied of its motivating principles over the years; Fr. Junipero’s liberalism has somewhat decayed into libertarianism.
That’s why it was so comforting to hear the “Franciscan” Pope speaking to Congress in the way Fr. Serra himself might have spoken—his broken but heartfelt English, his reverence for natural beauty, his love for the human person, his trustful dedication to the Catholic Gospel. California is a better state now that her founder is a saint. We all feel the reassurance that our Father Founder is interceding for the California he loved before the throne of mercy. As beneficiaries of Fr. Serra, we love our California and continue his mission of bringing Christ to these lands.