A trio of twenty-something young adults and their dog Laika walked more than 800 miles in the footsteps of St. Junipero Serra on a Lenten pilgrimage to pray for California that spanned the 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Vigil.

Hope Waterman, 27, Matthew Geier, 27 and John Paul Hanson, 24, began walking after the 7 a.m. Ash Wednesday Mass at the first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, and concluded in time for Easter Vigil in Sonoma, where the 21st and farthest north California mission was founded by the Franciscan friars.

 “The thing I could do to bring about the radical reconversion of California was to pray to the man who brought the faith to California in the first place and to walk the missions of California as a prayer and penance for the salvation of California,” said Waterman, an emergency medical technician in Wyoming who grew up in California and in Texas. “I decided to do it in Lent and start off on Ash Wednesday.”

It was the vilification of St. Junipero Serra – a saint canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S. – that led Geier to join the 46-day pilgrimage organized by Hope Waterman. “The idea that someone who is a canonized saint in the Catholic Church, that he’s having his name and reputation smeared through the mud by people who did not know that he had such love for the native peoples of California,” motivated Geier he said, noting that Junipero Serra grew up in comfort and was a professor at a university in Mallorca. “He left all of that.”

The 21 missions, beginning with the first one founded by St. Junipero Serra in San Diego in 1769, are integral to the state, Geier said. “It’s to try to restore a proper appreciation for the missions as a foundation of California. This place was such a deeply Catholic place. The whole society of our state has grown up around these missions. “

Because of his commitment to the reputation of St. Junipero Serra and to California’s Catholic heritage, Archbishop Cordileone met with the pilgrims just hours after he learned they had arrived in San Francisco Holy Thursday. He blessed their pilgrimage, their banner and various religious articles, praising the initiative which he called “blazing the trail for what I think we should be doing here, a Camino California.”

For Hanson, Geier and Waterman, it’s been quite a journey: sun, rain, sore feet and a rosary together every night, “unless we fall asleep during the rosary,” noted Hanson. Most nights they camped out, but in a few cases members of the informally organized California Mission Walkers put them up and several nights they stayed in hotels. Gregory Wood, a Catholic psychotherapist and member of the Mission Walkers, connected them with several families. Wood is also coordinator of the St. Serra Walking Pilgrimage, July 23-24, in Southern California.

The three pilgrims walked everywhere, refusing rides because Father Serra walked everywhere. They only stayed indoors at places that would allow dogs. 

Full story at Archdiocese of San Francisco.