Pope Francis on Saturday recognized the heroic virtue of the life of a 17th century Italian Jesuit missionary who evangelized – and mapped – much of what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
On July 11, the pope formally recognized the life of Servant of God Eusebio Kino, S.J., as one of heroic virtue. Kino, an explorer and missionary, took part in numerous expeditions through the American Southwest and is widely considered an apostle to the native population of Arizona, and defender of their rights.
Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, welcomed the announcement on Saturday.
“Growing up in Arizona, I first learned of Padre Kino in elementary school,” Wall told CNA.
“The example of the life of the ‘Padre on Horseback’ has played a large part in strengthening my own Catholic faith – especially the love, care, and sensitivity he showed to the indigenous people of Arizona.”
Born in 1645 in the Tyrol region of northern Italy and ordained in 1677, Kino was sent to Mexico, arriving in 1681. While there, Kino made numerous journeys through what is now the Sonora region of Mexico, and the states of Arizona and California.
Participating in more than 50 expeditions through northern Mexico to the southwestern United States, he is credited with baptizing more than 4,000 people, and covering more than 50,000 square miles by horse while announcing the Gospel and mapping the Pimería Alta territory of modern Arizona.
A capable cartographer, Kino personally mapped an area 200 miles long by 250 miles wide, and paving the way for a network of missions and roads connecting previously inaccessible parts of the region.
One of the main thoroughfares in Tucson is named the Kino Parkway in his honor and a statue of him overlooks the road.
A statue of Kino was placed in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., by Arizona in 1965.
Kino is also credited with teaching advanced agricultural and ranching techniques to the local people, delivering new crops and improving the quality of life. Kino founded 19 ranching villages to supply food for the region, and schools for the education of the local children.
The Jesuit was also a noted defender of the rights and dignity of the indigenous people, strongly opposing the Spanish conscription of the local Sonoran Indians to work in silver mines. He died in 1711, aged 65, having fallen ill during a Mass to dedicate the church of St. Francis Xavier in present day Magdalena de Kino, in Sonora, Mexico, where his shrine is a national monument.
“Kino was a true son of the Church, and model of the New Evangelization for our modern day,” Bishop Wall said. “I am grateful to the Holy Father for recognizing the heroic virtue of this great man.”
The Vatican’s recognition of Kino’s life as one of heroic virtue follows the recent vandalism and destruction of several statues of another missionary central to the history of the region. In recent weeks, demonstrators have attacked statues of St. Junípero Serra, who founded a string of missions across California and was known as a vigorous defender of rights of indigenous peoples.
The recognition of Kino’s heroic virtue was made Saturday morning in Rome, when Pope Francis advanced the causes of five possible candidates for sainthood.