Pope Francis has canonized 18th-Century missionary Junipero Serra, in a move cheered by Hispanic Catholics but criticized by some Native Americans.
Junipero Serra, who lived in what is now California, is the first person to be made a saint in the US.
Latino churchgoers have said honoring Junipero Serra is an overdue acknowledgment of the American Church’s Hispanic history.
However, Native American groups have accused Junipero Serra of helping wipe out indigenous people and their culture.
Junipero Serra was a Franciscan friar who brought Christianity to California. Native Americans there say he was instrumental in the killing of thousands of people by the Spanish conquerors.
Pope Francis, who is on his first official visit to the US, defended Junipero Serra saying he helped protect native peoples.
“[Junipero Serra] was the embodiment of a Church which goes forth,” Pope Francis said on September 23.
“Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward. Let’s keep moving forward.”
Pope Francis – speaking in his native Spanish – made the announcement during a Mass in Washington attended by about 25,000 people.
The Pope had “fast-tracked” his canonization, meaning that there was no need to show proof of two miracles.
Earlier, the pontiff called for further action on climate change saying that it was “a critical moment of history”, on the first day of his visit to the US.
Speaking at the White House, Pope Francis said the problem could “no longer be left to a future generation”.
President Barack Obama said the Pope reminded people “that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet”.
The environmental issue is divisive in the US, with one Republican congressman boycotting the Pope’s speech to Congress on September 24 because of the pontiff’s stance.
All the leading Republican presidential hopefuls say tackling climate change will hurt the economy.
At the White House large crowds gathered on the South Lawn to greet the pontiff. Officials said over 11,000 tickets had been issued, but noted that the crowd was even larger.
After the Pope spoke, he held a private meeting with the president at the White House Oval Office before the Pope embarked on a parade in a specially outfitted jeep known as the “Popemobile”.
The pontiff will also visit New York and Philadelphia.
Pope Francis, who has sought to bring Catholics back to the Church with a more inclusive message, is very popular in the US and is expected to draw massive crowds.