“I have placed all my confidence in God, from whose goodness I hope He will grant me to reach not only San Diego to raise the standard of the Holy Cross in that port, but also Monterey.” —St. Junipero Serra, 1768, when he was about to begin his missionary work in California

This quote shapes our California Missions 2020 pilgrimage– we  begin in San Diego and pilgrimage north towards Monterey/Carmel visiting eight of the nine missions established by St. Junipero Serra, ending our journey at his tomb.

St. Junipero Serra (1713 – 1784) was born to a farming family on the Spanish island of Majorca. He was baptized the same day he was born, and was later sent to be educated by the Franciscans. In 1730 he joined the Franciscans and was ordained to the priesthood. St. Junipero was considered brilliant by his peers; he was well-trained in philosophy and theology, and taught at the university.

I desire nothing more from you than this, that when the news of my death shall have reached your ears, I ask you to say for the benefit of my soul: ‘May he rest in peace.’ Nor shall I omit to do the same for you, so that all of us will attain the goal for which we have been created.” —St. Junipero Serra, to his theology students on the island of Majorca in the year 1743.

In 1750 he traveled to the New World and began ministering to the people of Mexico City. In 1768 he moved north and began working in the Californian missions. As a result of his tireless missionary efforts, he is largely responsible for the spread of Catholicism along the western coast of the United States—as testified by the many Californian cities with Spanish Christian names. He founded the first nine of twenty-one Catholic missions that spread along the California coast. He converted thousands of Native Americans to the Christian faith and taught them new methods of agriculture, animal husbandry, and craftsmanship.

Our pilgrimage begins where it all began, with the first mission, the oldest of all, Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded July 16, 1769. Mission San Diego de Alcala will have just finished celebrating the 250th year since its founding!

The second mission we visit is Mission San Luis Rey, named for St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270).  Mission San Luis Rey, a National Historic Landmark, was founded in 1798, and is known as the “King of the Missions.” It is the largest of all the 21 California missions and is home to a community of Franciscan Friars.

We arrive at the third mission, Mission San Juan Capistrano, on the Feast  Day of St. Joseph and the day the swallows return.  After touring the mission we will join in annual Return of the Swallows Festival, a tradition begun in the 1930s.

The fourth mission we visit is Mission San Buenaventura or “The Mission by the Sea”. Father Serra’s successor, Padre Cambon, built seven miles of aqueducts which allowed the mission to have flourishing gardens and orchards. In 1833, it faced a secularization decree from the Mexican government resulting in the confiscation of property and buildings. It was not until 1862, after California had become a State of the Union, that President Abraham Lincoln returned the church, the cemetery and the vineyard to the Church.

The fifth mission is known as “The Queen of the Missions,” or the Mission Santa Barbara. The mission has the oldest unbroken tradition of choral singing among the California Missions and, indeed, of any California institution. Here we will attend Mass and visit this beautiful mission.

The sixth mission is the small Mission Santa Inés named for St. Agnes (Inés in Spanish). The first Seminary in California (Our Lady of Refuge) was built at this mission in 1844.

The seventh mission is the Mission San Luis Obispo. The L-shaped architecture here is unique among the missions, with the belfry commanding attention. The famous mission bells, originally from Lima, Peru, are still rung by hand every day.

The final mission we visit during the pilgrimage contains his tomb — from the height of his physical and spiritual power to the place of his departure from this world– at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo.  He died from tuberculosis at the age of 71. The Native Americans he ministered wept at his death out of their love for him. Junipero Serra was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1988 and canonized by Pope Francis during his trip to the United States in 2015, the first canonization Mass to ever take place on American soil. His feast day is today!

We travel the breathtakingly beautiful California coastline as we move from mission to mission, stopping in other places to take in the sights of God’s magnificent natural creations from scenic overlooks to watching seals at play.  As always, we will encounter “living stones of faith” as well, including at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. Here we will find respite from our travels in the Mass, spiritual reflection and lunch. Approximately 20 Monks live here, each in a separate cell, following the Rule of St. Benedict.  For more details about the California Missions 2020 pilgrimage, follow this LINK.

St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!