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Pope Francis makes mission founded by St. Junipero Serra a minor basilica

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CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 12:30 pm MT (CNA).- Pope Francis has elevated a California mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra to the rank of minor basilica. The San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura was granted the title by the pope in an announcement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Wednesday, the feast of St. Bonaventure.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez announced the mission’s new status on July 15, before celebrating daily Mass at the mission garden, together with Los Angeles auxiliary Bishop Bobert Barron, and the mission’s pastor. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Mass was celebrated outdoors and livestreamed.

“When the Pope designates a basilica, it means this is holy ground,” Gomez said.

“Something beautiful and important in the history of salvation happened here. A basilica is a place where the mercy of God has been proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a place where sinners have been saved and saints have been made, and the Kingdom of God has moved forward.”

The designation is granted to churches around the world in recognition of their special pastoral and liturgical significance in Catholic life, and their closeness to the pope. The San Buenaventura Mission remains an active parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, serving approximately 1,400 families. It is the 88th U.S. church to receive the title, and the first in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The request for minor basilica status was presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the discipline of the Sacraments in 2014 by the mission’s pastor, Fr. Thomas Elewaut.

Elwaut welcomed the announcement on Wednesday, calling it “a joyous occasion” for local Catholics.

“Archbishop Gomez notified me on the eve of St. Junípero Serra’s feast day, July 1, that Mission San Buenaventura is elevated to a Minor Basilica. On behalf of our parishioners, I am most grateful to His Holiness, Pope Francis for this recognition and to Archbishop Gomez for his unwavering support for this petition which began in 2014,” said Fr. Elewaut.

“This is truly a joyous occasion for our parish – an honor that stretches beyond the Mission even beyond the Archdiocese – as well as our city and county and a worthy way to celebrate the feast day of St. Bonaventure today.”

The mission was founded by St. Serra on Easter Sunday 1782, the ninth and last mission established by the Franciscan saint. Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s largest cities— including as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

Bishop Barron said he was “absolutely delighted” by the news.

“This is a tribute to our great Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an acknowledgement of the splendid evangelical work that has taken place at the mission for over two hundred years. May God be praised!”

The announcement of the elevation of the San Buenaventura Mission comes days after a fire devastated another local mission founded by St. Serra. Early Saturday morning, a four-alarm fire destroyed the roof and interior of the 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission church, founded in 1771.

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, statues of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Rioters pulled down a statue of St. Serra in the state capital of Sacramento on July 4. On June 19, statues of the saint were torn down in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In June, the San Juan Capistrano Mission and its neighboring church removed statues of Serra from their outside displays to preserve them from being targeted.

On June 29, Gomez wrote that while “those attacking St. Junípero’s good name and vandalizing his memorials do not know his true character or the actual historical record,” increased security precautions meant that some California churches would “probably have to relocate some statues to our beloved saint or risk their desecration.”

On July 14, the University of San Diego, a Catholic university, announced that it would take down its statue of the saint, in response to Gomez’s letter.

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