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Saturday, July 1, 2006
Blessed Junípero Serra (USA)

Optional Memorial (1969 Calendar): July 1

Listed on the 1969 Calendar of Saints for the United States, the Church today celebrates the life of Blessed Junípero Serra. Specifically in the United States, the Church celebrates the Optional Memorial of Blessed Junípero Serra, who gave nearly his entire life to evanglize non-believers. This is someone I truly admire because evangelization is close to my heart.

He was originally born as Miguel Jose Serra on the island of Mallorca, Spain on November 24, 1713. When he entered the Franciscan Order in 1730, he took the name of Junípero, the name of the companion friar of St. Francis of Assisi. He was ordained in 1737, and he taught philosophy and theology at the University of Padua for twelve years. Then at the age of 37, he answered an inner calling to go to the New World and convert the natives so that they might be saved.

Blessed Junípero arrived at Vera Cruz, Mexico and walked the 250 miles to Mexico City along with his companion. Along the way he received an insect bite on his leg that would remain with him for the rest of his life. At times it would become life threatening. For the next 18 years, Blessed Junípero evangelized the people of central Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there.

However, politics soon entered the situation. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to territory south of Alaska. Jose de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out for present-day Monterey, California along with him. The first mission he founded after the 900 miles journey north was in San Diego (1769). At that time the expedition was nearly canceled due to a shortage of food. Blessed Junípero and another friar began a novena that would lead up to the day of the departure, March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph. And, on that day, a relief ship arrived allowing Blessed Junípero to continue onward.

Numerous missions would follow including San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771), San Luis Obispo (1772), San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776), Santa Clara (1777), and San Buenaventura (1782). I suggest you look at a map of California missions.

Blessed Junípero frequently faced death from non-Christian natives as well as cruel military commanders. Yet through prayer and faith, he saved many souls; he would frequently pray from midnight until dawn. He baptized over six thousand people and confirmed five thousand. The amount of miles he traveled would have encircled the earth. Blessed Junípero also helped make the "Bill of Rights" for Native Americans a reality. He died on August 28, 1784, of tuberculosis and is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo in Carmel, Monterey, California. He was beatified in 1988.

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