Pope Elevates Junípero Serra to Sainthood to the Frustration of Some

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Pope Francis presides over a canonization Mass for Friar Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on September 23. Tony Gentile/Reuters

Pope Francis elevated Junípero Serra to sainthood on Wednesday evening in Washington, D.C., in the first Holy Mass of Canonization held on United States soil. The service was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Though Serra is now held to the highest regard possible in the Catholic faith, some are frustrated with his sainthood.

Born in 1713, Serra attended the Franciscan church of St. Bernadine. He studied Latin, religion, math and reading. He first began wearing the Franciscan habit at the age of 16 and went on to be a religious figure for the next 54 years. He was ordained between 1737 and 1739, though historians are unsure exactly when it happened.

Serra traveled to the New World in 1749, sailing first from Mallorca to Spain, then traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, he went to Mexico City, and later he moved to California, reaching San Diego in 1769.

Serra founded numerous missions, including California's first. At the Mission San Borromeo, 20 Native Americans converted to Catholicism in 1771. "Conversion was not compulsory; rather, Indians chose freely to join the church and the mission after a period of catechesis. Indians were not baptized unless the missions could provide them with room and resources enough for sustenance," the organization in his name said in a statement on its website. However, Serra's treatment of Native Americans is controversial.

Native American groups believe Serra was involved in enslaving and abusing the native people of California. Others argue he helped spread disease that caused the native people to die out.

Those in favor of his canonization argue he was an early leader among Spanish people and should be remembered for his missionary work.

Others were frustrated with the pope for not speaking out for women's ordination while in Washington. About 50 people from the Women's Ordination Worldwide organization protested Pope Francis, and some lay down in the street where his "popemobile" was set to travel. Four women and three men were arrested.