For Kyle Revilla, an eighth-grader at St. Didacus School in Sylmar, Sept. 23 brought an afternoon of notable firsts: his first opportunity to watch Mass presided over by a sitting pope and the rare chance to witness the actual canonization of a saint.

“It was so much fun to be a part of [the canonization Mass]. Now we have a new saint and it was a cool first experience to … see how it actually happens,” he recounted to The Tidings shortly after watching the Mass live with fellow students.

Revilla was among 1,500 students from 35 Catholic middle and high schools in the archdiocese who gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A. on Sept. 23 to experience and celebrate the historic canonization of Father Junípero Serra, who became the first Latino American saint.

A large screen was set up in front of the cathedral altar to display the live video transmission of the canonization Mass to the students, teachers and administrators who filled the pews. The canonization, which was the first ever on U.S. soil, was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., during the pope’s recent first-time visit to the United States.

Before the Mass began, Father Christopher Bazyouros, director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, greeted the students and shared a brief overview of Catholic sainthood, the canonization process, and the legacy of Father Junípero Serra — now St. Junípero — as the “Apostle of California.”

Regarded as one of the “founding fathers of the United States” by Pope Francis, St. Junípero helped bring Catholicism to the New World as a missionary in the 1700s, first in Mexico and later in California, where he founded the first nine of the state’s 21 missions.

His purpose was twofold, explained Father Bazyouros: to evangelize the people with the Gospel and to colonize the area at the behest of the king of Spain.

“Pope Francis is [declaring] Junípero Serra a saint for the universal Church … as a symbol of that missionary passion … of someone who goes forward,” he said. “We are all called to be saints — we are called to be citizens of the kingdom of God.”

In his homily during the canonization Mass, which had about 25,000 people in attendance, Pope Francis described St. Junípero as “the embodiment of a Church which goes forth … to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.”

“Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. … Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: Siempre adelante — keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel,” he explained. “Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

Seventh-grader Janine Medina from Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School in Montebello described it as “incredible to see [Junípero Serra] being canonized.”

“Now instead of just learning about older saints, we get to celebrate a new one,” said the bubbly, smiling Medina. Adding to her enthusiasm is the fact that she genuinely “loves Pope Francis,” because, quite simply, “He’s an amazing pope.”

“I love that he likes to interact with the people and just get out there,” she said.

Stacy Rodriguez, a religion teacher and coordinator at Miraculous Medal School, said she felt it was “excellent” for the students to go to the cathedral together to “actually witness the canonization, because it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

“I thought it was an amazing experience to share with our kids, especially because sharing our faith and being disciples of Christ is what Jesus is calling us to do,” she said.