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Diocesan priests ride the California mission highway

First slide

There's a famous drive along the West Coast of the United States that hugs the Pacific Ocean for about 1,700 miles from Washington State to Los Angeles. California's segment of the route goes through Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey and offers drivers stunning views of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

It's been called the ultimate road trip, and it's on many people's bucket list.

Father Donald Planty, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, had a California road trip on his bucket list too, but it was a more spiritual one. It came close to the Pacific Coast Highway at times, and sometimes parts of the more famous route were taken. It was the path used by missionaries, especially Blessed Junípero Serra, as they founded missions up and down California. The route is known as El Camino Real, or the royal road, and is made up mostly of U.S. Highway 101. It runs for about 600 miles.

Father Planty and his friend, Father Thomas Cavanaugh, parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn, took about two and a half weeks last summer to drive the mission route through California. The two friends rented a car in San Diego and began the journey that ended in Sonoma, Calif.

The pair stopped at 21 missions along the way, half founded by Blessed Junípero. Sometimes they just dropped in for a quick prayer, doing two or three a day, but at many they stopped for the night, even celebrated Mass at some.

Some of the missions, such as San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, the place where Blessed Junípero is buried, are more popular with tourists. It's also the namesake of Father Planty's parish.

Others are less traveled. Mission San Antonio de Padua in Monterey County is surrounded by Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation and gets fewer visitors.

Most of the missions are still active parishes, but a few are owned by the state of California.

Father Planty said that the trip offered both spiritual sustenance and a time to relax at beautiful missions.

Father Planty has been an admirer of Blessed Junípero for many years and is looking forward to the Sept. 23 canonization.

"He was an extraordinary evangelist," he said.

Father Planty will be concelebrating at the canonization ceremony with Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. He eagerly awaits the opportunity to see the "Apostle of California" become the church's newest saint.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015