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Pope to canonize California missionary Junípero Serra

A statue at Old Mission Santa Barbara depicts Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra. On Thursday, January 15, 2014, Pope Francis announced that Serra would be canonized — making him the newest Catholic saint.
A statue at Old Mission Santa Barbara depicts Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra. On Thursday, January 15, 2014, Pope Francis announced that Serra would be canonized — making him the newest Catholic saint.
Wally Gobetz/Flickr Creative Commons

The newest Catholic saint will have strong ties to California.

Pope Francis on Thursday announced plans to canonize Junípero Serra, a Franciscan who established many of the state's Spanish missions.

According to the Associated Press, Serra is credited with bringing Christianity to the United States' West and founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions in California.

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez on Thursday said he was "very happy" over the news and called it a "gift to California and the Americas."

"It's wonderful to think that this new saint once walked the road that is now the Hollywood Freeway and called it El Camino Real, 'The King's Highway,'" Gomez said in a written statement.

Gomez referred to Serra as one of his "spiritual heroes and a giant figure in the evangelization of the New World."

But there are many Native Americans who might not see Serra as a holy man.

Serra is vilified by many for his apparent disdain of Native Americans and their culture, KQED reports.

"There are many native people who believe that he was a cultural imperialist who brought all kinds of despair to native California," UC Riverside historian Steven Hackel, author of "Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father," told KQED.

Many Native Americans ultimately came to embrace Catholicism, however, and missionary baptismal records are now viewed as the go-to source for genealogical research on California's native population, according to KQED.

Pope Francis is expected to canonize Serra when he visits the United States in September, according to AP.