RELIGION

Pope to canonize friar who brought Catholicism to California; critics say move will 'backfire'

  • FILE - In this July 2, 2015, file photo, Capitol Hill visitors walk in front of a statue of missionary Junipero Serra, center, located in Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The first pope from the Americas is preparing to elevate to sainthood an 18th-Century missionary who brought Catholicism to California. Pope Francis will canonize Junipero Serra during a Mass on Sept. 23 outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    FILE - In this July 2, 2015, file photo, Capitol Hill visitors walk in front of a statue of missionary Junipero Serra, center, located in Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The first pope from the Americas is preparing to elevate to sainthood an 18th-Century missionary who brought Catholicism to California. Pope Francis will canonize Junipero Serra during a Mass on Sept. 23 outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, center, is surrounded by pilgrims outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez exalted Saint Junipero Serra as one of the "founders of California" and "fathers" of the United States, during a Mass in which he blessed dozens of pilgrims ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the U.S.  (AP Photo/Edwin Tamara)

    Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, center, is surrounded by pilgrims outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez exalted Saint Junipero Serra as one of the "founders of California" and "fathers" of the United States, during a Mass in which he blessed dozens of pilgrims ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. (AP Photo/Edwin Tamara)  (The Associated Press)

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, gets a preview of Pope Francis' tour of the Capitol from Assistant Sergeant at Arms Ted Daniel, right, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. At far right stands a statue of Father Junipero Serra who founded Catholic missions in California in the 18th century. Father Serra will be canonized when the pope comes to Washington next week.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, gets a preview of Pope Francis' tour of the Capitol from Assistant Sergeant at Arms Ted Daniel, right, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. At far right stands a statue of Father Junipero Serra who founded Catholic missions in California in the 18th century. Father Serra will be canonized when the pope comes to Washington next week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  (The Associated Press)

The first pope from the Americas is ready to elevate to sainthood an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to California.

Pope Francis plans to canonize Junipero (hoo-NEE-perr-oh) Serra during a Mass on Wednesday outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It's the first time that a pope will elevate someone to sainthood on U.S. soil.

The pope announced in January that Serra would be canonized. The Franciscan friar from Spain is revered by Catholics for his missionary work. Francis fast-tracked Serra's canonization by eliminating the need to show proof of two miracles.

Serra's canonization is controversial, especially in California, where Native Americans say he wiped out indigenous populations, enslaved converts and spread disease.

Francis will celebrate the Mass in Spanish.