Reader of Serra’s bio at canonization knows mission founder well

WASHINGTON — Franciscan Fr. Ken Laverone knows a lot about Blessed Junipero Serra.

Fr. Ken Laverone is current vice postulator for the sainthood cause of Blessed Junipero Serra and an advocate of the Spanish missionary. He is pictured at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Sacramento, Calif., where he is pastor. The Franciscan priest was born in San Juan Bautista, Calif., and baptized at the mission there. (CNS photo | Nancy Wiechec)

The Sacramento, California-based priest, who is a co-postulator of Blessed Serra’s cause, said he has been interested in the mission churches since he was a kid and comes by that naturally, since he’s the sixth generation in his family to be associated with the missions.

As he put it, his relatives were married and buried in the missions and he was ordained in a mission.

It’s fitting that he was tasked with reading the biography of Blessed Serra at the start of the Sept. 23 canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

The document, which he will read in Spanish, is about 500 words. The day before the Mass he had the text folded in a pocket for easy access to practice. The text will be in a book for the liturgy.

The priest, who spoke to Catholic News Service at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, about a mile from the national shrine, prior to a watch party to observe Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States, said it was hard to believe the canonization was about to take place.

When it was announced in January that Blessed Serra would be canonized, the priest was at a Serra retreat house in Malibu, California, for a meeting and the news completely took him by surprise.

In the eight months since that announcement, the priest has been explaining Blessed Serra’s sainthood qualities to reporters and the general public and to those who questioned if the 18th-century Franciscan who founded nine California missions deserved the title of saint. Some object to him being made a saint because of how the mission system treated the native peoples of California.

In an interview with CNS this summer, Fr. Laverone said the canonization recognizes a man who, despite all odds, spread the Gospel message where it had not been heard before. And he did so in a “radical” way.

“Serra, with all his limitations, with all his physical ailments, saw the good news as something that had to be proclaimed, and he went to the extreme ends to do that,” he said.

Fr. Laverone also pointed out that the Spanish missionary’s own motto, “Siempre adelante, nunca atras” (“Always forward, never back”), speaks to that spirit.

“The Gospel is so important you have to move forward,” said Fr. Laverone “We have something to share, we have the good news.”