SALINAS VALLEY — Christian Clifford, author of books about Spanish-Mexican history in California, was on a quest to visit all 21 California missions, including Mission Soledad and Mission San Antonio de Padua in South Monterey County — on foot.
When asked why he did it, Clifford shared, “I visited all 21 missions by car so I thought it would be nice to walk the entire chain. Being a Catholic school teacher for over 20 years, my hope was 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 achieved his goal and shares his story in his new book, “Pilgrimage: In Search of the Real California Missions,” which was released this year.
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. 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.
He finished his walk to the 21 California missions in June 2020 and believes it was appropriate, because 2020 marked the fifth year since the canonization of Junípero Serra.
Clifford’s pilgrimage along the California Missions Trail included approximately 800 miles walked over 45 days, and about 298 hours walking.
He also raised more than $2,000 on Facebook and GoFundMe for the Campaign for the Preservation of Mission San Antonio de Padua Foundation. Founded in 1771 by Junípero Serra, the third of the 21 California missions is the remotest (located in Jolon) and for many a favorite because of its authenticity.
“The Mission is a gem. Future generations must know of the roots of modern California and the Spanish missions are those roots,” Clifford said.
A major objective of Clifford’s book is to amplify the lesser-known voices in California mission history, particularly those of the Mission Indians and the Franciscan priests.
“During my 800-mile journey on foot of the California Missions Trail, I learned many lessons from those who blazed the Trail before me — indigenous, Spanish, and mestizo,” he said. “Inspired by the words of Pope Francis who spoke of the Catholic Church as one ‘which goes forth,’ my adventures included a dash of the wandering spirit of Mildred ‘Peace Pilgrim’ Norman; a pinch of the athletic prowess of Terry Fox; part Waldenesque reflection of natural surroundings; a heaping of Franciscan history; and a spoonful of the Codex Calixtinus, the 12th-century guide for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in Spain. My hope is that my experiences on the California Missions Trail inspire one to carry on.”
For more information about Clifford, visit Missions1769.com.