Fr. James (Jimmy) Nieblas will meet Pope Francis when the Pontiff travels to the U.S. later this month for the World Meeting of Families. The meeting will take place on the occasion of the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra on Sept. 23.

Fr. Nieblas will be representing the Diocese of Orange, as well as the Mission Indians who had settled in the San Juan Capistrano area prior to the founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano by Father Serra.

A special mass, attended by several Native American families as well as Bishop Vann and Monsignors Holquin and McKiernan, included a special blessing for Father Nieblas as he embarks on his journey to meet the Holy Father.

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The Native American community and many other worshippers filled the Serra Chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano August 31 for a special Mass celebrating the coming visit of Pope Francis to America and his canonization of Father Junipero Serra.

The Mass also was an occasion to provide a “sendoff” blessing for the principal celebrant of the Mass, Father Jim Nieblas, a Southern California Salesian priest and member of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, the original tribe evangelized by Father Serra at the mission in the 18th century. Father Jim, who grew up in San Juan Capistrano, was educated at the mission school and is the first and only man from the Juaneño tribe to be ordained a priest, will travel to Washington, D.C. this month at the invitation of Pope Francis. The pontiff has asked to personally meet representatives of the original Native American tribes that were evangelized by Father Serra when he visits the nation’s capital.

Father Jim was recommended for the trip to Father Serra’s canonization by Monsignor Art Holquin, the mission’s rector emeritus. “He was a natural choice,” said Monsignor Holquin, “and Bishop Vann accepted my suggestion and personally asked Father Jim to represent the mission as a Native American from San Juan Capistrano.”

The Mass, which was concelebrated by Bishop Vann, Monsignor Holquin and the mission’s rector, Monsignor Michael McKiernan, “was a lovely gathering and was well received by the community,” said Monsignor Holquin.