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A Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of St. Junipero Serra


Pictured in front of the modern San Rafael Church in San Rafael, California, are the parishioners of Catholic churches in Orange County and L.A. County who took a Canterbury Pilgrimage trip to the 21 Missions in Alta California.  Pictured in the front row in the center is group leader Ruth Burns. In the last row at far right is Chaplain of the group, Fr Patrick Moses, Pastor of St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress. (Photo courtesy of Habib Aziz.)

Pictured in front of the modern San Rafael Church in San Rafael, California, are the parishioners of Catholic churches in Orange County and L.A. County who took a Canterbury Pilgrimage trip to the 21 Missions in Alta California. Pictured in the front row in the center is group leader Ruth Burns. In the last row at far right is Chaplain of the group, Fr Patrick Moses, Pastor of St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress. (Photo courtesy of Habib Aziz.)

By Edna Ethington

When Pope Francis I came to the United States and canonized the Roman Catholic Spanish priest of the Franciscan Order, Father Junipero Serra, as a saint on September 23, 2015, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., there was a renewed interest in studying and learning more about Fr. Serra and the 21 Missions of California. St. Irenaeus parishioner Ruth Burns worked with Canterbury Pilgrimages as a group leader to plan a 10- day pilgrimage to the 21 Missions in California from September 26 to October 6, 2016, with St. Irenaeus’ Pastor, Fr. Parick Moses as Spiritual Director.

A total of 38 pilgrims chose to walk in the footsteps of St. Junipero Serra to enrich their spiritual life. They were accompanied and guided by Debra Jakub, Tour Escort with Canterbury Pilgrimages and driven safely from Cypress to San Diego by bus with David Amaya of Fast Deer Charter. They traveled 650 miles on El Camino Real, the King’s Highway, from the first mission in San Diego de Alcala in southern California to the 20 other missions, ending in San Francisco Solano in northern California and flying back to Long Beach by Jet Blue airlines.

Parishioners from St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress were joined by parishioners from St. Catherine of Siena Church in Laguna Beach, St. Hedwig Church in Los Alamitos, St. Nicholas Church in Laguna Woods, and Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest on a pilgrimage to the 21 missions in California. My husband David and I joined the pilgrimage group from St. Irenaeus Church and looked forward to getting to know all our fellow travelers and celebrating Mass every day with Fr Patrick and growing spiritually.

It took 54 years for the 21 Missions of California to be founded from the first mission at San Diego de Alcala in 1769 to the last mission at San Francisco Solano in 1823. We wondered how we would see 21 missions in only 10 days when Fr. Serra took one year to travel from San Diego in Southern California to Monterey in Northern California. We were able to visit all 21 missions by visiting one, two or three missions each day. We also were able to see other special places of interest near the missions. Each day began with Fr. Patrick leading prayers on the bus followed by his celebrating Mass at one of the missions or chapels. Everyone participated as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, altar servers, cantors and choir members at these Masses. We learned many interesting facts about the missions and Fr. Serra from docents at the missions and from books purchased at the mission gift shops.

Fr. Serra was born with the name Miguel Jose Serra. He took the name of Junipero in honor of Brother Junipero, a companion of St. Francis. Fr. Serra was full of zeal and wanted to spread the Roman Catholic Faith to the Native Indians of California. As President of the Alta California Missions, he oversaw the founding of nine of the first missions in California before his death on August 28, 1784. They include the missions of San Diego de Alcala, San Carlos Borromeo, San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Arcangel, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores), San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara de Asis and San Buenaventura. The Mission San Carlos Borromeo served as his headquarters during his years as president. His body is entombed in the sanctuary of San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel and it was designated as a minor basilica in 1961.

His successor, Fr. Fermin de Lasuen, founded the next nine missions, and three missions were founded by Franciscan Friars, Fr. Estevan Tapis at Santa Ines, Fr. Vicente Sorria at San Raphael and Fr. Jose Altimira at San Francisco Solano. The 12 missions founded by these Franciscan Friars, in order of their founding, include Santa Barbara, La Purisima Concepcion, Santa Cruz, Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, San Jose de Guadalupe, San Juan Bautista, San Miguel Arcangel, San Fernando de Rey Espana, San Luis Rey de Francia, Santa Ines, San Rafael Arcangel, and San Francisco Solano.

While the missionaries were working to spread the Catholic Faith, the Spanish government wanted to extend the Spanish Empire in Alta California, so the King of Spain supported the missions until Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1821. The Act of Secularization of 1833 turned control of the missions from the missionaries to civil authorities. The soldiers and Mexican civil rulers did not treat the Native Indians well and the Indians did not receive the land and their share of the assets of the missions that were promised to them.   Many Indians died of diseases such as measles and smallpox which they caught from the Spanish and Mexicans. Other Indians left the missions to work on rancheros or pueblos. Without the support of the King of Spain and without Indians living and working in the missions, the missions could not survive. Earthquakes, fires, bad weather and floods destroyed many missions.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln returned all the missions back to the Catholic Church, but most of them were in ruins. Private groups have helped to restore or reconstruct the missions. Two missions, Mission La Purisima and Mission Solano are now owned and operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation as State Historical Parks. All the California Missions are California Landmarks because of their historic and architectural significance.

As we traveled from San Diego in Southern California to San Francisco in northern California, we were able to stop and see other places of interest. We had lunch one day at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra and lunch at Terravant Winery in Buellton. We enjoyed a lunch of Subway sandwiches provided by Fr. Patrick and our group leader Ruth Burns and then took a ferry boat ride to Alcatraz Island with a tour of the prison. We saw the Golden Gate Bridge and the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park and took a Wine Train tour of Napa Valley with snacks and a delicious lunch.

As pilgrims on this pilgrimage to the 21 California missions, we will look back and remember with fondness, meeting and praying for our prayer partners during the entire pilgrimage. We will especially recall Fr. Patrick’s sense of humor and he, as our Shepherd, greeting us each morning on the bus with his cheerful, “Good morning, lambs,” and everyone’s response of “BAAA.” He inspired us to pray and led us in praying the rosary and sharing spontaneous prayers and songs during our bus rides. He was very effective in delivering his homilies at our daily Masses.

In the last homily that Fr. Patrick Moses gave at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, the Meritage at Trinitas Cellars Winery in Napa Valley, F. Patrick said that initially, pilgrimages were meant to be a penance to break open our hearts so we can rely on the goodness of God and preach the Gospel. He asked us to go back to our parishes and learn what it means to live as a Christian. He said that, Gentile or Jew, everyone is called to be a saint and spread the Gospel, and we enrich and transform our lives with a pilgrimage. We never stop our pilgrimage, our own journey to heaven.

Fr. Patrick also said earlier that we should remember Sr. Junipero Serra’s Motto in our lives: “Siempre Adelante, Nunca Atras.” “Always Forward, Never Back.” We should always look forward to our goal of becoming a saint and reaching heaven.




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Christian Clifford

Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!