A Mass of Thanksgiving and Farewell for Archbishop Paul Etienne was offered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral on May 29. After a brief stint with the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Archbishop Etienne has been called to serve as coadjutor archbishop of Seattle, where he is expected to soon succeed Archbishop Peter Sartain who is in poor health.
In his final liturgy in Alaska, a comfortably full church greeted the archbishop, as did dozens of priests and deacons from the area. The atmosphere in the gathering space was one of joy. The archdiocesan choir, made up of musicians and vocalists from several area churches, provided upbeat music which set the tone of celebration and thanksgiving.
Following the customary readings of the day, Archbishop Etienne delivered his final homily to the people of the archdiocese.
“It seems like just yesterday we were gathered here for an Installation ceremony,” he said. “Here we are just two and a half years later — to give thanks for this brief sojourn of faith.”
The outgoing archbishop cited the Gospel reading from St. John — Jesus’ farewell discourse given to the Apostles before his passion, death and resurrection. In this discourse Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will guide you to all truth.”
“As you know, my episcopal motto is ‘Truth in Love,’” Archbishop Etienne said, “and I have tried during my time among you to speak the truth of Jesus Christ and to be an expression of his love for you. For the moments I have failed you in either regard, I ask your forgiveness.”
Declaring his willingness to listen to people’s experiences and opinions, the archbishop asserted he is not interested in various versions of the truth.
“All we should want to hear is the one truth of Jesus Christ,” he said. “One person’s truth cannot contradict another person’s truth. Truth is truth. Truth possesses us, and when we hear this truth from the Spirit of Truth, it resonates deeply within us as sound, ordered, attractive and life-giving.”
Archbishop Etienne then spoke of the joy of seeking and discovering that God is not far from any one of his people. He recalled his many visits to parishes, missions and shelters, as well as the campuses and chapels of local Catholic schools, Providence Hospital, and the Alaska Native Medical Center. Particularly memorable, he said, were gatherings with the Samoan, Filipino and Native communities, and other ethnic communities in the archdiocese, as well as meetings with young adults and individuals.
“While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the many good memories I have made here with you, it is a good sample,” he said.
Archbishop Etienne continued, his voice filled with emotion.
“I would be remiss if I did not speak about the many conversations we have shared in this painful past year, seeking the face of God in the midst of pain, mistrust, misdeeds and betrayals,” he said. “In you, I have found the presence of God. From you I have heard the voice of the Spirit of Truth. With you and for you, I have prayed and discerned to know where God is leading us as church today. And while this journey still has miles to go, we are on the way of healing and of greater responsibility, transparency and credibility.”
The archbishop then spoke of the beauty of Alaska.
“I find the presence of God so readily in the beauty of this great land, where it seems God spent a little extra time carving his beauty into this landscape, and the life that fills it,” he said. “Thank you for letting me enter in to the mystery and beauty of your lives and your faith.”
He concluded with gratitude for having had the chance to shepherd the church in Alaska.
“My friends, it has been my sincere pleasure and privilege to serve her in Anchorage as your chief pastor and shepherd,” he said. “Let us continue to pray for each other, and above all, to pray, discern and listen for the Spirit of Truth who will guide us to all truth. Let us continue to seek and beg for the grace to live the truth in love.”
At the end of Mass, Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz said he never thought he would find himself saying farewell to his successor.
“Thank you, Archbishop, for the great faith and dedication to the church, through your leadership abilities in our midst,” Archbishop Schwietz said. “You taught us much. We have come to love you as a brother and as a friend, a shepherd with a great heart.”
Archbishop Schwietz noted that Anchorage has long been a mission archdiocese, and has benefited from many who have served and assisted it.
“Our neighbor to the south has a need for a shepherd … and so, we can mission also,” he said. “We mission you, Archbishop Paul, with our prayers, gratitude and promises that we will not forget you.”
His concluding words were followed by sustained applause and a standing ovation.
Following the Mass, well-wishers attending a reception echoed Archbishop Schwietz’s sentiments.
“It was a wonderful time for him to be here,” said Pat Ford of Saint Patrick Church in Anchorage. “He is sincere and cares about his people. I will miss him — miss his leadership.”
Barbara Block, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Holy Family Cathedral, expressed her gratitude as well.
“His blog has been a wonderful gift — the ‘Truth in Love’ is what he has done from the beginning,” she said in reference to Archbishop Etienne’s actions regarding the latest repercussions of the sexual abuse scandals in the church. “He’s brought us through a rough patch.”
Margaret LaTocha, of Catholic Native Ministry, was touched by the emotion shown during his homily which addressed that “rough patch.”
“I think he had a hard time saying what he had to say,” she said, adding, “even though he is leaving, he will still be here with us.”
Archbishop Etienne departed Alaska on June 1 and was received as the coadjutor archbishop of Seattle on June 7. Archbishop Sartain is expected to retire from Seattle, upon which time Archbishop Etienne will immediately become the next archbishop of Seattle.