The Portolá 250: An historic expedition to raise the voice of California Catholics

By James Aitchison

The year 2019 marks the 250th anniversary of the Portolá Expedition, which was the first expedition over land into Alta, California. Joining Catalonian-born explorer, Don Gaspar de Portolá in the year 1769 was Rev. Junípero Serra, who at the age of 56 went to California for the first time. Commissioned by King Charles II, the expedition had a political purpose and a religious purpose to spread the Catholic faith. Together, Portolá and Serra set out to establish a chain of missions that changed the human history of California in profound ways. Commander Portolá established San Diego and Monterey while Saint Junipero Serra established the first nine missions along El Camino Real referred to as The King’s Highway from San Diego to San Francisco; essentially Interstate 5 today.

“Over 54 years, four forts, or presidios, and 21 missions, the deep imprint from the explorer and Franciscan priest from Mallorca along with names of saints can be seen all over the Golden State,” said Anthony DeBellis, co-architect of The Portolá 250 and accompanying Year of Prayer initiative. “To this day, the spirit and work of the Catholic missionaries is indeed reflected in the state’s major cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco along with many schools and streets.”

With such storied reminders of the Catholic Church bringing Christianity to California and with such a rich physical and visual presence, one might ask: Where is the Catholic voice in our world today?

Have you wondered why despite having more than 70 million registered Catholics in the United States, we are rarely at the table for debate, and our radio and television shows rank very low as well as Catholic website popularity compared to other religious or secular sectors? It is astonishing how a majority market segment such as the Church doesn’t seem to have a voice or an audience—at least one proportional to their size—anywhere in our culture today.

Certainly, this fragmentation is due in part to the world not seeing the holiness of the Church in the love that its members have toward one another; one of the four foundational and distinguishing marks of the Church. To exacerbate matters, healing is needed in our land at all levels of society as well as within the Church itself, the institution commissioned by Christ to save souls in season and out of season.

Many voices tend to depict the Catholic Church as an outdated, legalistic, untrustworthy, morally discredited and dying institution. In a tone reminiscent of Mark’s Twain’s quip, ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,’ Thomas McKenna, founder of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, insisted, “The Portolá 250 will help bring us back to the fundamental American Catholic tradition of freedom and faith and back to taking responsibility for the greater good. From coast to coast throughout American history, Catholics have built churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages, social agencies and much more and this is no time for anyone of us to sit it out or fade into the sunset.”

Our Lady will lead us

The Pilgrim Virgin Statue will be escorted by the California Knights of Columbus

Led by the world-famous International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the Portolá 250 compels Catholics to come together and answer the call to turn our country back to God and restore Christianity to California.

With the theme, “As California goes, so goes thenation”,organizers suggest the ground is set to shake like never before as Catholic laity, in solidarity with their priests and religious, unite to add the winning chapter to the storied history of Catholicism in the state of California. Strength has tremendous potential in numbers, but it will require galvanizing Catholics across 12 dioceses comprising 30 percent of the state’s population, or more than 10 million California adults who identify themselves as Catholic, to raise their collective voice.  

“Just imagine the possibilities when the whole Church comes together in an organized fashion and moves as one body,” poses DeBellis. More than a campaign, The Portolá 250 is a commitment to make this a positive event for the Church, to reenact the Portolá Expedition and celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Missions, he added.

One of the primary prayer intentions for the journey is that Mary will shower her graces on all the dioceses of California. When asked about the paramount importance of prayer, Deacon Mitch Rennix from St. Mary Catholic Church in Escondido, CA, insisted, “Especially against all odds, when Catholics commit to sincere and constant prayer, God will do what He does best…just as He did at Jericho….and bring us to victory in California via his mighty hand.”

The Fatima statue will be escorted by the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA and the Calif. Knights of Columbus Color Corps, visiting all 21 missions from Sept. 1 – 22, 2019, as well as some sponsoring parishes and a monumental stop at the Sacramento State Capitol. The expedition will kick off with the first mission in Alta, the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, and travel up the coast of California from there. The visits also include relics for veneration of the Crown of Thorns, the veil of the Blessed Mother, a piece of St. Joseph’s mantle and three relics of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.

In addition to the WAF/Blue Army and KCs, organizers are working in close collaboration with Catholic Action for Faith and Family, Legion of Mary, home school networks, local diocesan newspapers and others to help bring about reparation, renewal and the rise of the Catholic Church. 

For updates on the tour schedule or to submit prayer intentions, visit   

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  1. Will you me coming to the Indio, Palm Springs, Ca. Area?

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