Pope Francis on Wednesday kissed and blessed a cross that was buried with Father Junipero Serra, the early California missionary whom he will canonize during his U.S. visit later this month.
When Father Junipero Serra’s tomb was opened in 1943 to exhume the Franciscan priest’s body, a cross was found on his chest. Members of the Catholic Church Extension Society brought the relic to the Vatican for the Pope’s Sept. 2 general audience, and presented it to the Pope.
“The Pope blessed it, but he also venerated it, it was very touching," Father Jack Wall, president of the Catholic Church Extension Society, recounted to CNA. “He reached down and kissed the cross … that was buried with Junipero Serra."
Now that the cross has received the Pope’s blessing, it will return to California’s Diocese of Monterey, where it will be displayed in the museum at the Carmel Mission.
Bl. Junipero Serra played a leading role in California history. He helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new technologies. The 18th century Franciscan priest founded many of the missions that would go on to become the centers of major California cities. He was beatified in 1988 by Saint John Paul II.
Pope Francis will canonize Father Serra Sept. 23 during his visit to Washington, D.C.
In a May 2 homily, the Pope described the missionary as “one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country."
Fr. Wall said the Catholic Extension Society is particularly excited about the canonization. He added: “it was part of Catholic Extensions’ hope to help us celebrate this moment in our country, the first Hispanic saint."
He and other members of the society were in Rome to celebrate two occasions: the 110th anniversary of their founding and the 105th anniversary of their establishment as a papal society.
The Catholic Extension Society, headquartered in Chicago, aims to build up and strengthen the Catholic faith in the poorest places of the United States. Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago is chancellor of the society’s board of governors, and presented the cross to Pope Francis.
The society seeks to share in Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor through its assistance to the poorest dioceses in the United States.
Fr. Wall said the group wanted to tell Pope Francis, “there’s a movement in the United States, and we are really, absolutely embracing his mission to go to the peripheries, those marginalized in the United States, and to really bring that message of hope and joy and peace."
The society raises roughly $25 million each year to support more than 1,000 projects, including church construction and assistance for seminaries and vowed religious. It also offers support to migrant workers and poor communities.
The society supports the Brownsville, Texas school whose students participated in a virtual audience with Pope Francis hosted by ABC News on Monday.
“I think that’s his constant message, that we’re in solidarity with everybody in our human family – as he preached today, it’s about family and that we are connected and one with each other in so many ways, and especially as a Catholic community," he said.
The Catholic Church is an institution which is constantly present to the poor across the United States, the priest observed. He said that a person can’t go to country’s poorest places and not see the presence of the Catholic Church.
“So we’re really a very important instrument of helping lift up people to their deepest aspirations of what they want to be as people," he said.
For his part, Fr. Wall said that he will do his best to continue building up Pope Francis’ message “for us as Catholics to reach and meet the risen Christ in the poorest communities of our country."