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In May, 1777, Serra received official word from Rome that he had been given the power of administering the sacrament of confirmation to the Indians of California, a power usually reserved for Bishops. In August, 1778, he sailed south to San Diego and spent the months from September through November confirming some 600 Indians in the area, By this time Serra was sixty-five years old, suffering from asthma and the sores on his legs, but undaunted in his enthusiasm. He departed from San Diego on the mission trail to administer confirmation at each mission until he reached Monterey on December 23. He had completed a 450-mile trek during which he had confirmed 1,897 people, discussed mission policy with each priest, and dealt with whatever problems had arisen with the Indians. San Diego was still considered one of the poorest regions with its land described as "most sterile, barren, and unfruitful, lacking humidity as well as irrigation facilities." In 1781 the presidio housed about 125 persons and was still dependent upon supplies from a transport vessel.
By June, 1783, Serra was suffering from severe chest pains but wanted to visit all of the missions before his privilege of confirmation expired the following year. He sailed from Monterey to Santa Barbara, visited Mission San Buenaventura (finally founded March 31, 1783), and then sailed on to San Diego in September. He knew his health was failing and feared he might not see San Diego again. He stayed for a month, noting in his journal on September 25, 1783, that he had completed fifty-three years as a Franciscan. He spent the next few weeks confirming Indians and on September 29 conducted a special ceremony at the presidio chapel. With the assistance of Father Lasuen, he confirmed four Indians from the mission and thirty-four persons living at the military establishment.
Father Serra sadly said good-bye to San Diego on October 7, traveling the familiar trail to San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel. Hampered by chest pains and the swelling of his legs, he slowly journeyed northward stopping at each of his missions - baptizing, preaching and confirming. He reached Carmel on December 15 and rested there until spring. He visited Santa Clara and San Francisco in April and May, 1784, bringing the total number of his confirmations in California to 5,275 persons.