Waiting for St. Junípero

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When Pope Francis canonizes Blessed Junípero Serra Sept. 23 at a ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, an Arlington diocesan staff member, John Knutsen, and his wife, Colleen, will share a sense of satisfaction at the creation of the new saint.

Blessed Junípero was born in 1713 on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. He became a Franciscan in 1730 and was ordained a priest in 1738.

In 1749, he left Spain to become a missionary in Mexico, landing in Vera Cruz. He walked 250 miles from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, a pattern of walking, even with painful leg ulcers, and preaching, that he would continue in his missionary work from Baja Mexico through Alta California (now the state of California.)

Blessed Junípero died in 1784 at the second mission he founded, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, Calif. He is buried under the sanctuary that is home to the National Shrine to Blessed Junípero Serra.

His legacy, sometimes a matter of controversy, can be seen in the maps of the Golden State. All told, he founded nine missions from Mexico to Carmel.

"He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous 200 years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain," said Pope Francis in May in an address honoring Blessed Junípero at the North American College in Rome.

Knutsen is a native Californian, while his wife was a transplant moving to California when she was 18. They met as graduate students at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. They both went on to teach at the Serra Catechetical Institute in the Diocese of Oakland.

The couple's first date was Mass at the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission chapel. Knutsen later proposed to Colleen at the mission, and they married there in 2007.

Knutsen, coordinator of adult faith formation for the diocese, said that Blessed Junípero is an example of tireless evangelizing.

"As a Californian, I've always had a special devotion to (Blessed Junípero), even more so now that I work in evangelization and adult faith formation," he said.

The couple will not be in the crowd of pilgrims at the shrine Sept. 23, but their thoughts will be with the "Apostle of California."

"My prayer on the day will be a plea for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this country, that through the intercession of St. Junípero Serra all Catholics in America might come to understand their call to be missionaries in our own time and place," said Knutsen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015