May 19, 2006 - Issue #10
Local News | Opinion/Editorials | Letters to the Editor

Local News

Study of environment and Catholics seeks volunteers

Former Catholic Anchor writer Jen Ransom is looking for local Catholics interested in discussing their religion-inspired environmental actions.

Ransom is conducting a master’s degree thesis study on the environmental views, choices and actions of Southcentral Alaska Catholics.

Her aim is to "describe and cultivate creative interpretations of environmental ethics within the local Catholic community," she wrote in a news release announcing the project. "I hope to take a reflective look at how those of the Roman Catholic faith are responding to environmental challenges through the examination of their own environmental actions."

Ransom, who is attending Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, hopes to gather the insights and stories of local Catholics through personal interviews. Her role will be that of "writer-as-interpreter," she said, presenting each participant’s story in a written, narrative format.

These stories need not describe large, campaignlike environmental actions, though they could, Ransom said.

She said she is "extremely interested" in hearing about the "sometimes overlooked, conscious, day-to-day actions individuals are taking to be more environmentally aware and responsible."

Likely interview questions include "How has the Catholic Church or its teachings influenced your environmental values?" and "Are you are putting your environmental values into action? If so, how?"

In addition to her personal interests in religion and the environment, Ransom said she was drawn to this research by a letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that stated that God’s glory is revealed in the natural world and that the ecological crisis is also a "profoundly religious crisis."

In the letter, entitled "You Love All That Exists … All Things are Yours, God, Lover of Life," the bishops give the example of clean water, stating that the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are one, Ransom said.

"They urge that a religious response is needed to help tend and protect everything God saw as good when he created the earth," she said. "My study is one such response."

Catholics in the greater Anchorage Bowl area, including Girdwood, Eagle River and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, are invited to take part in the study.

Interviews will take place in late May and throughout June.

If you are interested in becoming involved in this study, call Ransom for more information at 907-343-0248 (days) or 907-563-0479 (evenings), or e-mail her at



Two priests near milestones in careers

Two priests who have been "on loan" to the Anchorage Archdiocese for many years are celebrating major milestones in their priesthoods. Father A.J. Fisher, a priest of the Diocese of Baker, Ore., will have been a priest for 50 years on May 26, and Father David Means, of the St. Louis Diocese in Missouri, marks his 25th year since ordination two days later.

When Father Means was ordained in Missouri, he did not have plans to become a Russian-speaking priest living a monk’s lifestyle in Far East Siberia.

But he’s been doing just that for the last decade in Magadan, Russia, as associate pastor of the only Catholic church in that city of more than 100,000 people.

Actually, the church was not yet built when Father Means arrived in 1996. There were, however, some devout Catholics, many of whom had survived imprisonment in Josef Stalin’s slave-labor gulags.

Then-Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley and Father Michael Shields, an Anchorage diocesan priest, made the flight across the Bering Sea to Magadan in 1990, a year before the Soviet Union finally dissolved. They concelebrated the first public Catholic Mass in Magadan, an event that attracted about 300 people who packed into a theater.

That same year, Father Means moved from Missouri to Alaska, fulfilling a request for more priests in the state’s mission territory.

After serving at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Anchorage for two years, Father Means was pastor of Seward’s Sacred Heart Parish and later traveled to serve outlying parishes.

"I was very happy where I was," Father Means wrote in a recent e-mail from Russia. But God had other ideas, he said. When Father Shields became pastor of Magadan’s Nativity of Jesus Parish in 1994, Father Means’ faith that he would soon follow grew.

"I knew then that I would join him in Magadan," he said. "I didn’t know how … ." Despite the uncertainties, Father Means began studying Russian while he continued to serve rural parishes in the archdiocese.

In 1996, during the sixth year of what originally was to be a three-year loan to Alaska, Father Means gained permission to go to Magadan to serve what he called "the infant church of Russia, a church being reborn and revitalized after years of atheistic communism."

"We had a wonderful little parish that was steadily growing in faithfulness," he said. "There was the witness of those who survived the gulags. There was the suffering of the Russian people who were trying to survive the complete restructuring of an economic system."

In addition to helping lead the construction of the Nativity of Jesus church, Father Means expanded his missionary work to Ola, an economically depressed village about an hour’s drive from Magadan, where he celebrates Sunday Mass in a converted apartment building.

There he set up a learning center with computers, a kitchen and a washing machine where parishioners can access the Internet, get a meal or do laundry.

The bearded 52-year-old is distinguishable by a long grey habit with a heart and cross sewn in red cloth on his chest. It’s modeled on the garb worn by Blessed Brother Charles de Foucauld, a French monk who inspired the foundation of several religious communities. The habit, along with Foucuald’s spirituality, have been adopted by Father Means and Magadan’s two other priests — Father Shields and Slovakian Father Milosh Krakovski.

Reflecting on his priesthood, Father Means wrote: "I would never have guessed 25 years ago that I would one day see the opening up of Russia, much less be there and be part of its revitalization and rebirth."

"I wouldn’t exchange that for anything in the world," he added.

The priest will attend a Mass of thanksgiving celebrated on his anniversary, May 28, in St. Peters, Mo.

Father Fisher’s 50-year vocation has taken him westward from his family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin and, more recently, north to Alaska.

The 78-year-old moved to an Anchorage mobile home community ten years ago after retiring from active ministry in Oregon.

"Villa Panorama" is what he calls the tidy, bright, prefabricated "dream home" that harbors wood carvings of saints and a view of the Chugach Range.

These days, Father Fisher fills in regularly for a chaplain on Elmendorf Air Force Base and celebrates Mass most school days at Holy Rosary Academy, an independent Catholic school in Anchorage.

Retirement has also given the priest time to pen memories of his missionary days into four slim paperback books about athletics and holiness, horses, parish life and priesthood.

Father Fisher said his vocation began at age 4, when he would pretend to be a priest, singing high Mass over a cup. As a teenager, he raised cows, attended Catholic high school and reveled in rural life, all of which stoked a burning "spirit of adventure" that led him to the priesthood.

He wanted to be a missionary but didn’t want to learn another language and work overseas, so he joined the Baker Diocese and for 32 years ministered in the rugged countryside of eastern Oregon.

He worked for six years on Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Umatilla, where people of the confederated Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla Native tribe live.

At St. Andrew mission parish and school there, he decided the youngsters in his care needed to learn more about their Native culture from their elders. The school hosted culture lessons on feather craft, beading and other forms of Native art. School pageants showcased the traditional clothing, songs and stories of the people on the reservation.

"First, you’ve got to make them proud of themselves," Father Fisher said of his young charges.

It worked. Kids who had been too shy to speak during class became comfortable giving presentations during pageants. The school even started a cheerleading team for the once-timid girls.

Father Fisher also served as pastor of a parish deep in "cattle country" — Jordan Valley, Ore., where round-ups pushed rivers of cattle down the street in front of the church.

That’s where he learned to break horses, hunt mule deer and photograph portraits of rodeo queens.

After 50 years, Father Fisher said it’s the prospect of getting to know new people in new places that has driven him as a missionary priest.

"Everybody’s got a story," he said. "When a priest goes someplace, people want to talk — Catholic and non-Catholic," he said.

At the same time, Father Fisher laments that he’s seen a gradual drop-off in Mass attendance over the years. (According to a Gallup Poll, in 1965, 67 percent of Catholics said they had attended Mass in the last seven days, as opposed to 45 percent in 2004.)

Father Fisher said the most difficult aspect of his priesthood has been a movement in parishes to incorporate "social work rather than totally spiritual work."

"Good works are good but you still have to work on your own soul," he explained.

He summed up his own personal priesthood: "You’ve got your breviary, you’ve got your prayer life, you’ve got your Mass, your sermons; you teach, you’re compassionate … and you can help the needy in quiet ways.

"You influence a lot of people," he said.

Anchorage’s St. Patrick Parish hosted an anniversary celebration for Father Fisher in April, and he will return to Milwaukee to celebrate his 50th anniversary later this month.



Arizona cantor sings praises of the liturgy

On the morning of Saturday, May 6, 40 voices rang through Our Lady of Guadalupe Church: "El cáliz que benedicima es la comunión de la sangre de Cristo," they sang. "Our blessing cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ."

When the psalm was over, the cantor, Jaime Cortez, addressed the crowd.

"What happened? What was the experience like? What did you see?" Cortez gestured to the altar. "Try to think about everything from the beginning to the end — the dynamic of the psalm."

Cortez, a well-known liturgical musician and composer from Mesa, Ariz., was spending the day with a group of local liturgical musicians. As they dissected the psalm, workshop attendees talked about the difficulty of singing in another language, of helping congregants learn new music and of overcoming musical bumps like Cortez and pianist Maureen Haines finding themselves in different places in the psalm, an accident Cortez turned into a teachable moment.

"Rescue the soloist always," he said. "That’s the rule. Rescate siempre el soloist." Cortez answered questions in English and Spanish, translating without missing a beat or pausing for breath.

Cortez’s workshop, sponsored by the archdiocese and offered at no cost, included ideas for encouraging worshipers to sing along with liturgical music. One way, he said, is to use familiar tunes for special occasions. He demonstrated using the popular liturgical song "You Are Mine," rewritten for use in the funeral rite.

When Kathy Harte, who has been involved in music ministry at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish since 1985, heard Cortez would be visiting Anchorage, she requested that he share the funeral version of "You Are Mine," a hymn that’s well-loved in her parish.

"We have just adopted that song," Harte said, adding that she hopes its familiarity will help parishioners feel more comfortable singing when it’s used as a song of farewell.

Peter Zografos, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Worship, said his office set out to find a guest artist who reflects Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s commitment to honor diversity.

"Multicultural liturgies are a reality in this archdiocese," Zografos said. "There are Spanish speakers who drive down from Palmer and Wasilla" to attend Spanish-language Mass in Anchorage, he said.

Cortez was the right choice because of his focus on incorporating multiple cultures into the same liturgy, Zografos said.

"I don’t mean tokenism," he said. "(I mean) welcoming. Inclusion. Awareness that we are all God’s people. The parish community is the holding center for all God’s people."

Part of Cortez’s trip included a visit to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Soldotna, where about 30 people attended a workshop similar to the one at Guadalupe.

"Kenai (Peninsula attendees) asked some really good questions," said pianist Haines, who works in the Office of Evangelization and Worship and hosted Cortez. "They were so enthusiastic down there."

Cortez also performed his own music for local liturgical musicians. His works appear in music issues (published by the Gregorian Institute of America and Oregon Catholic Press) used by many Catholic churches.

Harte, the musical director at St. Elizabeth, said she left Cortez’s May 5 evening concert at Our Lady of Guadalupe deeply touched by his performance of his own "Rain Down."

"I went this morning and pulled my copies and had my cantor do it," she said. "It was inspirational."

At the Guadalupe workshop, Cortez stressed the importance of teaching cantors to bring people into the music.

"The psalmist will teach you the refrain," Cortez said, pointing back at the ambo. "You are there to enable everybody to sing."

During a lunch break, a group of parishioners from Our Lady of Fatima, the Catholic church on Elmendorf Air Force Base, laughed and talked as they ate. Choir member Bing Mangilog said she had already learned much from Cortez.

"I came to realize how important the role of the cantor is," Mangilog said. "I didn’t realize the extent of the amount of responsibility."

Our Lady of Fatima is part of the military archdiocese rather than the Anchorage Archdiocese, and choir member Tonya Salas said it was nice to have a chance to interact with other parishes.

"It’s just different," Salas said. "For instance, your postures have changed. Ours haven’t. Our priest changes out every one and a half or two years. (Here) you can get a feel for what’s going on in other parishes."

Cortez said he enjoyed his time in Alaska helping satisfy the "wonderful hunger of ministers of music for knowledge that would make them better."

After lunch, he led a rousing rendition of a Jesse Manibusan song called "Malo! Malo! Thanks Be To God." As the singers followed along, they sang out praise in Tagalog, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Creole, Vietnamese and eight other languages.

The point, Cortez said, is to take songs that are fun to sing and tailor them to the individual parish communities.

Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner Ana Carbajal said Cortez’s workshop gave Guadalupe’s music ministers some great ideas for incorporating multiculturalism into their liturgy.

"We talk about how to invite the people to respond in everything," Carbajal said. "That’s one of the things he help(ed) us with. He’s a great musician. He has so much knowledge and he shows it."



Notre Dame choir to accompany worship in Anchorage

Editor’s Note: The following report comes from St. Andrew (Eagle River) parishioner Kathryn Hunter, a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the university’s folk choir.


There’s more to the University of Notre Dame than football, and the residents of the Anchorage area will experience that firsthand when the Notre Dame Folk Choir arrives in Anchorage. As the finale to a two-week tour of the Pacific Northwest, the choir will be in Anchorage June 1-4.

The choir will offer a workshop for liturgical musicians in the archdiocese, perform two concerts, and accompany worship at St. Andrew Parish in Eagle River and St. Patrick Parish in Anchorage (see sidebar).

The Notre Dame Folk Choir was founded by director Steven C. Warner in 1980 in response to a call for a more pastoral approach to liturgical music.

Under the direction of Warner and associate director Karen Schneider-Kirner, the choir has moved far beyond the conventional definition of a folk group; it now includes more than four dozen voices, flute, piano, violins, guitar, Celtic harp, cello and bodhrán (Irish drum).

As a connection and homage to the rich musical traditions of the church, the organ is also central to the choir’s unique sound.

The choir serves the University of Notre Dame, accompanying liturgy at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Sunday mornings during the academic year. Its members also lend their talents to dedication services, vespers, memorial liturgies, penance services and a host of other worship celebrations at the famous school operated by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in South Bend, Ind.

One of the hallmarks of Notre Dame’s Folk Choir Mass is the wide cultural range of music used to enhance the liturgy. Mass often begins and ends with traditional hymn tunes, while the rest of the liturgy usually features contemporary music, sung almost entirely in four-part harmony and composed in large part by the choir’s directors.

The Notre Dame choir also incorporates music from France, Russia, Ireland, Mexico and Africa, as well as works by classical European composers and traditional Latin chant.

"The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’ and that universality should be reflected in the music used for worship," director Warner said. "It is a way to remember and pray with all Catholics, on all continents, in all times."

The choir is dedicated to the important service of collaboration with parishes and liturgy centers beyond the campus, and as such takes annual pilgrimages. Concerts performed during these tours include a collection, the proceeds of which are donated to a charity of the host organization’s choosing.

During its Pacific Northwest Tour, the Notre Dame Folk Choir will be premiering its newest recording, "Psalms of the Notre Dame Folk Choir." Samples of this and other recordings, as well as additional information about the choir, its history and its mission, can be found online at



News & Notes


Eternal Word network is in the Bowl

EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the Anchorage Bowl and surrounding area. The program, nurtured and made famous by its charismatic founder, Mother Angelica, is available on GCI channel 122, MTA DTV channel 67, DishNet channel 261 and DirecTV channel 422, according to John Tobia, an Eagle River parishioner who is a big supporter of the network.

Bishops call for prayers for mariners

May 22 is National Maritime Day, which honors the contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marines and celebrates the benefits of the maritime industry in terms of transportation, jobs, goods and recreational opportunities. Congress established the observance in 1933, but for the first time this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for a nationwide Day of Remembrance and Prayer for Mariners and People of the Sea to coincide with National Maritime Day.




America didn’t lose, but could win bigger by putting an end to the death penalty

"America, you lost, you lost!"

So wannabe al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui taunted when a federal jury handed down a verdict of life in prison instead of the widely expected death penalty.

Moussaoui is the real loser in a number of ways, primarily for his association with bloodthirsty terrorists who murdered thousands of innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001.

He’s also a loser in that he doesn’t get to become a martyr, unjustly killed by the infidels.

But the most important way that Moussaoui lost — or at least that America won — when the jury opted for mercy is that America is shown as merciful, as unwilling to kill a person who proudly bragged about his role in an attack that brutally and tragically killed American civilians. (Never mind that numerous al Qaeda operatives told investigators that Moussaoui’s involvement with the treacherous plot and its actual planners existed primarily in his fantasy world.)

All that said, the United States could strengthen the perception that it is merciful by ending its use of the death penalty altogether. Doing so would also eliminate once and for all the irreconcilable contradiction that the state kills in order to show that killing is wrong.

The United States is one of only 22 countries worldwide — and the only one in the West — that executed citizens in 2005. America put 60 people to death last year, making it the fourth most prolific killer behind Saudi Arabia (86 executions), Iran (90) and China (1,770).

(Approximately 123 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Seventy-three countries retain it on the books, but the number of countries that actually impose the penalty in a given year is much smaller; it was 22 in 2005.)

There was good news on this issue in the United States last year when the Supreme Court ruled that use of the death penalty against minors constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was therefore forbidden.

Moussaoui’s trial is more good news. Instead of executing this deranged individual in a fit of revenge, the United States provided him access to the rule of law, which ultimately spared his life. That sends a good message about the way the United States operates.

The country would do well, though, to abolish capital punishment altogether.


Ride a bike to your and others’ health

We received word too late to properly promote Bike to Work Day — which is today in Anchorage and other cities around the country. So, allow us to crank out a kudos to all those hardy souls who commuted by bicycle today, and especially to those for whom two-wheeled self-propelled transportation is routine.

Biking to work is a simple but richly beneficial act congruent with Catholic views of personal, public and environmental health.

Biking provides cardiovascular exercise that enhances physical, mental and emotional health, plus myriad sensory delights that are imperceptible while barreling down the road enclosed in a car. Bicyclists lessen traffic congestion, which tends to reduce high blood pressure among all commuters. And muscle-powered bikers contribute zero to global warming and smog.

The streets of Anchorage aren’t notably bike-friendly in terms of respectful, patient drivers (not very many) or bike lanes (almost nonexistent). About 22 percent of all traffic deaths in Anchorage 2002-03 were pedestrians, the municipality reports.

At least the city has world class trails that can reduce street riding.

Even if you don’t bicycle, show your appreciation for those who do by driving cautiously and deferentially around them. Their efforts make all of us healthier.


Letters to the Editor

Treat immigrants as Jesus
Our politicians are on a collision course with Jesus. Read Matthew’s account of Judgment Day. What we do to the most desperate and most vulnerable among us — those who risk their lives in "death valley" days and freezing nights to find work in the United States to feed their families — is what we do to him. Yet a politician would imprison us for performing corporal works of mercy for them and him. That forces us to choose between jail and hell. We may fool ourselves by hiding behind our immigration laws even as we send up to 200,000 Americans illegally across the border into Iraq. But that doesn’t fool Jesus. Neither will making a big show of religion in public places while building walls to keep Jesus out of public policy. Doing that assures us that when we try to enter heaven, we’ll get deported as illegal aliens.

Generosity for senior religious
We extend our heartfelt thanks to all who have shared in the care of our elderly religious through contributions to the annual Retirement Fund for Religious Appeal. The $83,411.54 contributed by the people of the Archdiocese of Anchorage — an increase of 12.5 percent over giving in 2004 — is a great help to senior religious throughout the United States. Ninety-four cents of every dollar contributed goes directly to religious institutes, and you are remembered daily in the prayers of the more than 38,000 senior religious who benefit from your generosity.
Executive Director
National Religious Retirement Office

Attack on encyclopedia unfair
Regina Boisclair’s little rant against The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Catholic Encyclopedia online is dreadfully outdated" (May 5) lacks the distinctions one would expect from a seasoned academic. She makes sweeping statements without justification ("all biblical entries … would now be considered deeply flawed by official Catholic teachings," and "Catholic Encyclopedia distorts contemporary Catholicism and dishonors the intentions of its original editors") and shows an unscholarly inability to accept a 100-year-old work on its own terms. No one stops reading "The Origin of Species" or "The Interpretation of Dreams" simply because Darwin and Freud now appear dated. I am reminded of John Paul II’s criticism in his encyclical letter, "Fides et Ratio," of theologians who "use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth to which theology is called to respond."

What’s with all this doubt?
Jesus told a doubting Thomas that it is better to believe without seeing. Such advice today will seem somewhat more a contradiction, particularly in educated societies and in the modern age of unprecedented communications — the press, TV and radio, telephone, satellite and computer information worldwide with instant voice and view. When Jesus founded his church with Peter as the rock foundation, the test was, "Do you love me?" Here testing doubt again, consider "to believe" and "to love" are defined by the successors to Peter — namely the popes, especially in official definitions of beliefs and of ideals of love. When people said, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee," Jesus replied, "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." So why all the doubt? Since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, he is responsible in official and apostolic teachings regarding conjugal morality and spirituality, and in promoting natural law and human reason.
Cypress, Calif.