Today, September 23, 2015, Pope Francis will celebrate the first Mass of Canonization to take place in North Ameria. The soon-to-be Saint is Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan missionary who founded the first 9 of the California missions. I will blog more about this newest Saint and the canonization itself, but in this blog I want to call your attention to something that might only be noticed by most people in passing: the simple iron cross that will be part of the altar used during the Mass.
The 4-foot cross is made of iron from two ships: the Ark and the Dove. These vessels carried Catholic and Protestant pilgrims over the Atlantic Ocean in the early 17th Century. The cross is usually housed at Georgetown University in Dahlgren Chapel, thus it’s commonly referred to as the “Dahlgren Cross.” The cross was used at the first legally held Mass in the English Colonies in 1634. It is inscribed: Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam (“Let this be always remembered”) 1862.
The picture above is a bit of a sneak preview of the altar and the cross; both were on display in the Basilica of the National Shrine prior to the Pope’s arrival. As you witness the Mass of Canonization, take a moment to consider that this very simple cross has not only powerful faith significance, but it also carries a tradition of religious freedom and tolerance – truths just as timely today as they were when the cross arrived on our shores in the hands of people eager for new lives in a new land!