Father Junipero Serra, honored by Roman Catholics as the founder of California's missions but reviled by some Indians as a tyrant who abused their ancestors, will be elevated by the church Sunday to one step away from sainthood.

Pope John Paul II will beatify Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan monk, in a ceremony at the Vatican, granting him the title "blessed." Such an honor means at least one miracle has been attributed to Serra by the church."He has been called California's first citizen," said Ted Elisee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Monterey, where Serra's remains are buried at the Carmel Mission Basilica he established in 1770.

"Serra has been honored in United States history, with his statue in the rotunda in Washington, D.C., representing the state," he said.