Father Junipero Serra, who will not get the hoped-for boost toward sainthood during the papal trip, will take his place, nevertheless, among some of the giants of contemporary Catholic comic book heroes.
The lastest honor bestowed upon Father Junipero, courtesy of Franciscan Communications, a Los Angeles company that has published a number of religious comic books, might be a small consolation to supporters of his canonization who were disappointed earlier this summer when the pope announced he would not be elevating the 18th century missionary a step closer to sainthood.
Serra was a Spanish-born missionary who established California's earliest Catholic missions from 1769 to 1784, the year he died. The comic book depicting his life and work among the California Indians will be published in October.
The Rev. Roy Gasnick, author of the story and script for the Serra comic book, characterized Serra's new status among fellow comic heroes including Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II as a kind of "secular canonization."
Beatification of Serra, one of the steps on the way to canonization, was delayed when the Vatican announced that the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints could not assemble in time for the pope's Sept. 10-19 tour of the United States. The congregation must approve the beatification before it can be proclaimed.
Indians had opposed the move on the grounds that Serra's treatment of their ancestors was brutal and racist. Some activist groups in California had threatened demonstrations during the papal visit if the beatification ceremony took place.
If previous comics -- done with the cooperation of Marvel Comics in New York and Paulist Press in New Jersey -- are any indication, the Serra work could be a big seller. An earlier issue on St. Francis of Assisi has sold more than 1 million copies in English and other languages since it was first published in 1980. The pope's comic book sold about 500,000 copies, and Mother Teresa's comic sold about 350,000 copies.