Editor’s note: Today, we begin a very special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH
My wife, Debbie, and I plan visit all 21 California missions between April and October 2013 as our pilgrimage for the Year of Faith. The plan is to take a series of short trips to different parts of the state, and visiting two to four missions per trip.
The idea to do this came about in a most unusual way.
In late February, we were headed back from Monterey and decided to stop and visit the Mission San Juan Bautista. I was enjoying our tour of the mission, but kicking myself for not bringing my camera. Walking through the grounds, I saw a sculpture of a man reaching out to greet the morning sun. I reached for my phone to take a picture. As I unlocked the phone’s screen, there was a Facebook notification on the screen. It was a link to a story that the Mission Saint Anthony de Padua was in danger of closing. I thought, “I need to visit there before that happens.”
It then occurred to me that, we have visited only a handful of the missions in California. I took for granted that they would always be around. (Or for that matter, that I would always be around!). I proposed the idea that we would plan our travel over the remainder of this Spring, this Summer and early Fall around the California missions.
Traveling around California may not seem like much of a faith journey, but I think there is a lot to be learned. I begin this series after completing six of the twenty-one planned visits. Several themes are already emerging.
The missions are part of the history, and thus the story, of California. They also tell a story about how the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God interact. The missions show us the template that the Spaniards and the Franciscans used for the old world to interact with the new. Each Mission also tells a story about its particular location and the people that live or have lived there.
It is easy to be cynical about the motives of the Church and the Spanish government in founding the missions. You can argue that the indian cultures that the Franciscans meant to serve were doomed to extinction once the missions were secularized. No matter what conclusion you may reach regarding their political or cultural influence, it is impossible to dismiss their power as a symbol of God’s foothold on the new world.
In the coming months, I will post a mission visit each week to share my reflections as both a Catholic and a Californian. I will post reflections each mission, not in the order they were founded or in geographical order, but in the order we visit. Be prepared to do some leapfrogging up and down the state.
Join me next week when our first stop will be Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana.
Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney