Pope Francis (C) leaves the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to lead a mass in Washington

Pope Francis has named 18th-Century missionary Junipero Serra a saint, in a move cheered by Hispanic Catholics but criticized by some Native Americans.

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 him is an overdue acknowledgment of the American Church’s Hispanic history.

However, Native American groups have accused him of helping wipe out indigenous people and their culture. 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. But his defenders insist he worked as a moderating influence.

The Pope, who is on his first official visit to the US, defended Serra saying he helped protect native peoples. (BBC)