Two California bishops have voiced elation and gratitude at Pope Francis' announcement that he will canonize Blessed Junípero Serra, OFM, when he comes to the United States next September.

"This is great news and I am very happy about it," said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. "We are grateful to our Holy Father Pope Francis for this 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'," the archbishop said in a Jan. 15 statement.
"I believe Padre Serra's canonization will help the Church's new evangelization. It will remind us that our state and our country and all the Americas, are built on Christian foundations."

Pope Francis made the surprise announcement of the canonization Jan. 15 during a press conference aboard the papal flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines.

"In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States," he said.

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.

Pope Francis praised him as "the evangelizer of the west in the United States."

The previous day, Pope Francis had canonized Sri Lanka's first saint, Indian-born Joseph Vaz, who lived from 1651 to 1711. The Pope applauded Vaz for his tireless missionary work and his ability to evangelize in difficult terrain.

The date and location of the canonization have not been specified. However, Pope Francis will be in the United States in September to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Organizers are expecting him for the final Mass on Sept. 27 and say he could be there for events from Sept. 25-27.

Stops in New York and Washington, D.C., are also being considered, but have not been confirmed, said the Vatican Secretary of State in early January.

While there are not currently any official plans for the Pope to visit California, Archbishop Gomez said, "we are excited to hear more details from our Holy Father about his plans for this canonization."

He noted that Blessed Serra is one of his own spiritual heroes and a major figure in the evangelization of the New World, as a founder of California with special ties to Los Angeles, where he founded two missions.

"(W)e thank God today for this special moment of grace," the archbishop stated. "We rejoice with the universal Church, with the Franciscan religious order that Father Serra belonged to, and with the Catholic faithful in the two parishes and high schools that we have named for our new saint, Blessed Junípero Serra."

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco also voiced gratitude and joy at the sainthood announcement.

"We are all elated at the news of the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra," he said in a Jan. 15 video online, referring to the future saint as "the great apostle here in California."

He noted his own personal connection with Bl. Serra, growing up three miles from the first mission founded by the friar, later living at the parish house of a church established by him in San Diego, and now shepherding the archdiocese of San Francisco, another of the missions founded by Bl. Serra.

The archbishop pointed to Bl. Serra's "great sanctity, his heroic virtue, using his tremendous gifts of intellect, of strength, of perseverance and endurance of trials." He offered prayers "that we all might be blessed likewise to imitate those great heroic virtues for the good of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in California."