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Californian Honors the Past on 781-mile Pilgrimage to the 21 California Missions

San Mateo CA— Christian Clifford, author of three books about Spanish-Mexican history in California, has been on a quest to visit all twenty-one California missions, on foot! When asked why he is doing it, he shared, “I am part of a group called the California Mission Walkers. We enjoy following in the footsteps of the padres. I’ve visited all 21 missions by car so I thought it would be nice to walk the entire chain, God willing. Being a Catholic school teacher for over twenty years, my hope is to get as close to the lives of the amazing people who were the first Catholics in California—Indigenous, Spanish, mestizo—with the hope of being a better Catholic and teacher.”

Clifford began his journey in May 2018, the year marking the 184th anniversary of Pablo Tac’s enrollment at the Urban College, Rome, where the Native American youth learned how to be a missionary priest, hoping to someday return home to California to minister his Luiseño brethren as an ordained Catholic priest (learn more about Pablo Tac here). The bulk of his miles were walked in 2019. Clifford teaches at Serra High School in San Mateo and 2019 marked its 75th anniversary and the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first California mission at San Diego. Clifford finished his walk to the twenty-one California missions on June 22, 2020 and believes it is appropriate, because this year marks the fifth year since the canonization of Junípero Serra. Clifford’s last portion was 138 miles from Mission San Fernando to Mission San Buenaventura and from Mission Santa Barbara to Mission La Purisima via Mission Santa Ines. Specifics for his pilgrimage along the California Missions Trail were 781 miles walked over 45 days, and approximately 298 hours walking.

Christian Clifford (Courtesy photo)

Another reason that he walked was to bring attention to a mission that is close to the hearts of many California mission aficionados, Mission San Antonio de Padua. Founded in 1771 by Junípero Serra, the third of the twenty-one California missions is the remotest and for many a favorite because of its authenticity. “When at Mission San Antonio de Padua the sounds one hears early in the morning are probably the same sounds the friars and Catholic Indians heard nearly 250 years ago. When walking many parts of the California Missions Trail today, it may be hard to connect to the past because of the noise of vehicles whooshing by. At San Antonio, one feels like they are stepping back in time.” Clifford continues that the Mission is in dire need of help. “The government is demanding the Mission to do retrofit repair and a campaign is underway to preserve the structural integrity. This gem must not be lost. Future generations must know of the roots of modern California and the Spanish missions are those roots.”

In addition to bringing attention to Mission San Antonio de Padua, Clifford hopes for people to get to know the founder of the California missions better. “For those who do not know Junípero Serra, those who recently destroyed statues of him in San Francisco and Los Angeles, those who are calling for the removal of a statue of him in Ventura, and those who would like to get to know him better, I hope they do so by reading the friar’s own writings. The Writings of Junípero Serra are free online through the HathiTrust Digital Library.”

Pope Francis shared on September 23, 2015 in the homily for the Canonization Mass for Junípero Serra, “He [Serra] kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” Clifford believes that with every step he took, he walked with his Catholic ancestors who came before him—in a special way, the Indigenous, Spanish, and mestizo who lived, worked, and worshipped at the California missions.

For more information about Christian Clifford and to read his Notes from the CMT, visit www.Missions1769.com and The Campaign for the Preservation of Mission San Antonio de Padua Foundation at www.preservemissionsanantonio.org. To donate to the Campaign, visit Clifford’s GoFundMe.