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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Thursday that during his trip to the United States in September he would canonize Junipero Serra, a missionary who brought Christianity to the west of the United States in the 1700s.
"In September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States, who was the evangelizer of the west of the United States," he told reporters aboard the plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila on the second leg of his Asian tour.
Francis is due to visit Philadelphia for a world gathering of Catholic families. While Philadelphia is the only official stop on the tour so far, he is widely expected to visit New York to address the United Nations and Washington to meet President Barrack Obama.
Holding the canonization ceremony in the United States opens up the possibility he might visit the western part of the country where Serra worked as a missionary.
Serra, who was born on the Spanish island of Majorca in 1713, went to the Americas in the middle of the 18th century and led one of the first Franciscan missions in California.
He arrived in San Diego in 1769 and spent most of the rest of his life there before dying at a mission in Carmel near Monterey in 1784.
The Pope said since Serra has for centuries been considered a holy man, he had waved Church rules that require a second miracle to be attributed to the candidate for sainthood after his beatification.
He said Serra was "a great evangelizer".
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jeremy Laurence