Vatican City, Jan 15, 2015 / 05:24 am America/Denver (CNA).
In a surprise addition to his fall 2015 trip to the U.S., Pope Francis is planning to canonize the founder of California's first missions, Bl. Junipero Serra.
"In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States," declared Pope Francis aboard Sri Lankan Air Flight UL4111 on the way to Manila.
Bl. Serra, a Franciscan priest, lived in what is now California in the 1700s. A Spanish-born missionary, he founded the first nine of 21 eventual missions in California. He worked tirelessly with the Native Americans, and is said to have baptized more than 6,000 people, and confirmed 5,000.
"He was the evangelizer of the west in the United States," Pope Francis beamed.
Bl. Serra's canonization will be the latest in a systematic action from Pope Francis to give a boost to evangelization efforts throughout the world.
Yesterday, he gave Sri Lanka its first saint in the Indian-born Joseph Vaz, who lived from 1651 to 1711. Pope Francis applauded Vaz for his tireless missionary work and his ability to evangelize in difficult terrain.
"We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, of Saint Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace which has the power to build them up," Pope Francis said at Mass.
As he has with others, Pope Francis forewent the requirement for the verification of a miracle to advance St. Vaz' cause for sainthood, canonizing him to the cheers of more than 500,000 people on the Colombo beachfront.
Italy's St. Angela di Foligno, France's St. Peter Faber, Brazil's St. Jose Anchieta, and Canada's St. François de Laval and Marie of the Incarnation have all been canonized similarly in the last two years for being evangelizers of their times, said the Pope.
This method of "equipollent" canonization - that is, without the verification of a miracle and by express order of the Pope - is used when, "in practice, this person is venerated as a saint," said Pope Francis.
"Thus, the miracle process is not carried out. These are people who for centuries, perhaps, are in this way," he explained to the press corps on the flight.
"These are people who did a lot of evangelization and who are in keeping with the spirality and theology of 'Evangelii Gaudium.' That's the reason I chose them."
Pope Francis did not specify the date for the canonization Mass in September or where it will take place.
The dates are not yet official for his stay in the U.S., but he has said that he will be in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Organizers are expecting him for the final Mass on Sept. 27 and say he could be there for events from Sept. 25-27.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin of the Vatican's Secretariat of State told reporters Jan. 6 that stops in New York City and Washington, D.C., though also not confirmed, are being examined.