Pope canonizes 18th-century missionary

Posted at 2:31 PM, Sep 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-23 17:31:45-04

In the first canonization on U.S. soil, Pope Francis has elevated to sainthood an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to the American West Coast.

Francis canonized Junipero Serra on Wednesday during a Mass in Washington.

Serra was a Franciscan friar who marched north from Baja California with Spanish conquistadors, establishing nine of the 21 missions in what is now California.

The canonization was polarizing. Serra is revered by Catholics for his missionary work, and many Latinos in the U.S. view his canonization as a badly needed acknowledgment of Hispanics' role in the American church. But many Native Americans say Serra enslaved converts and contributed to the spread of disease that wiped out indigenous populations.

In July, Francis issued a broad apology for the church's sins against indigenous