Over 200 pilgrims gathered on July 23rd to walk the 35 miles between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Buenaventura for the second annual St. Junípero Serra Walking Pilgrimage.
The two-day pilgrimage is the brainchild of Greg Wood, a parishioner of Mission Basilica San Buenaventura, along with his wife Mary. He launched the first one last year as an “opportunity for a public witness to our faith and the goodness of our beloved… ‘father of California’.”
“In light of all the desecrations of [St. Junípero’s] statues…and the defamation of his character and his good works, I felt called to honor St Junípero Serra publicly…by organizing a walking pilgrimage that would literally walk in the saint’s footsteps,” Greg said. “This would allow us to continue the saint’s mission to evangelize California.”
The first pilgrimage drew more than 150 people. This year, their numbers were even higher. Joining the pilgrimage were a few Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, providing music for the road with guitars, drums, and violins.
“There’s something really powerful about being able to walk directly in the footsteps of this saint…especially as a Franciscan friar, to be able to walk in the steps of one of the brothers who had gone before us,” said Brother Sean Paul Wood, CFR, who flew in from the Bronx to join the pilgrimage. “The kingdom [was] unleashed on State Street in Santa Barbara.”
Pilgrims met on Saturday morning at Santa Barbara Mission for a Mass concelebrated by several LA priests, a few from Denver, and one from Portland. Father Dan Lackie, a friar at Mission Santa Barbara, blessed the pilgrims before sending them on their way.
The pilgrimage wound through downtown Santa Barbara, past the ocean, along the boardwalk, through Montecito and Summerland, ending the first leg with a dinner at St. Joseph Church in Carpentaria. After holy hour and confessions, the pilgrims pitched tents to rest up for the second day of walking.
On Sunday, pilgrims used bike and pedestrian trails along the coastline, tracing the footsteps of St. Serra. Because this is a jubilee year in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, pilgrims had the special chance to earn a plenary indulgence by walking through the holy doors of Mission Basilica San Buenaventura.
The pilgrims ended their journey around 6 p.m. Sunday night with Mass and a dinner hosted by the Knights of Columbus. “Arriving at that final stretch, we were singing, we were dancing, walking down the main street towards the Mission, and the bells started ringing,” Brother Sean Paul said. Another pilgrim, Ed Gonzalez, “burst into tears” when he finally finished all 35 miles. “I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t tears because I was glad the 35 miles were over, it was tears of joy that I was able to experience [this] and offer this sacrifice with all those present, and tears from sadness that we were done.”
It was a moving journey for those who joined, but also for the people they encountered, he said. At one point, a woman stopped the friars and asked what they were doing. When Brother Sean Paul told her about the pilgrimage, he said, “she just broke down in tears.”
“Deep down people want something to live for, something to celebrate,” he said. The pilgrimage “was a microcosm of life, of pilgrims journeying toward Heaven. We’re in this together. ”