Faith amid the war zone
Mass strengthens local soldiers overseas
God can be hard to locate in a war zone — especially if you’re in the Army.
Nearly every military member has been or soon faces deployment to the Middle East, including those who work in Anchorage at Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson.
During these deployments, the military attempts to provide clergy who can serve the spiritual needs of soldiers.
It’s no secret, however, that Catholic chaplains are in high demand these days. Their ability to bring the sacraments to soldiers is stretched even further due to the logistics, travel and countless variables of war.
Army soldiers, for example, can go months without ever seeing a priest. Soldiers travel often, which forces the few priests who are available to constantly move from location to location to serve the faithful.
"Some soldiers only saw me once, twice, maybe three times during the deployment," said Father Andrew Lawrence, a captain and battalion chaplain for the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division.
The soldiers recently returned to Alaska after 14 months in Iraq. Father Lawrence was stationed in Kalsu, just south of Baghdad.
"I traveled throughout the area of operation extensively," he said. "In many places, I was not able to have personal contact. A lot of times I would get on the helicopter, get off, say Mass and get back on."
Father Lawrence was one of two Army priests covering the area south of Baghdad. When he first arrived, there were only seven Catholic priests in the Army to cover 180,000 soldiers, 45,000 of which were Catholic.
"We just don’t have enough priests to meet those needs," he said.
Lawrence visited about eight locations, multiple times, in Southern Iraq. He took an estimated 340 flights and traveled on roughly 20 ground convoys to provide religious services.
Every other week, Father Lawrence swung through Iskandariyah, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, where Maj. Craig Whiteside was deployed from Ft. Richardson. Whiteside is the battalion executive officer and a Catholic.
His post had a dedicated Protestant chaplain who provided a measure of spiritual support for the troops there. When it came to Mass, however, the central celebration for Catholics, it was only celebrated twice a month. Even that was contingent on whether a Catholic priest could fly in when the soldiers were not on patrol.
"I would have appreciated being able to worship more frequently," Whiteside said. He noted, though, that his faith was front and center during deployment.
"It’s hard reconciling the absolute tragedies that happen on a daily basis, and not just the soldiers being injured and killed over there," Whiteside said. "You can become numb to seeing body parts. It can make you ask, ‘Is there a God out there?’"
Whiteside credits his religion for sustaining him during those difficult times. In fact, he said he returned home to Alaska with a stronger sense of faith than when he left.
"As a relatively strong Catholic who has a solid faith, you don’t have panicky feelings," he said. "You have a serene calmness from your faith."
Fellow Catholic, Specialist Marcus Fausett, said he grew to appreciate how available Mass is in the United States compared to life in Iraq.
As a medic with his battalion, Fausett served three different locations in Iraq. He spent three months at Iskandariyah, six months in the Anbar Province in Fallujah, and the rest of his time in Kalsu. He estimates that he attended Mass about 20 times during the 14-month stay.
After attending Mass twice a month at Iskandariyah and once at Fallujah, Fausett seized every opportunity to attend Mass when he was transferred to Kalsu, where he even went to catechism classes.
"It shows you what you miss," he said. "Makes you want to eat up what you can voraciously."
Mass took place once a week at Kalsu and sometimes Fausett went straight there after nightlong patrols, all sweaty and dirty.
"I made them smell me anyway," he said, adding that going so long without Mass made him want to "stock up and refuel.
"You never know when you’re going to get the chance again," he said.
Air Force members typically have an easier time attending Mass regularly, since they often deploy to locations that have a dedicated priest for that area.
During four months at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, Lt. Col. Mike Borgert, from Elmendorf Air Force Base, had opportunities to attend daily Mass if his schedule permitted.
Borgert, Third Services Squadron commander, served at Manas from May to September 2007. During that time, he usually made it to Mass at least once a week.
"It’s a fairly small base, about 1,200 people total," he said. "There was only one Catholic priest, there, but it was easy to access him anytime we needed."
Thanks to a readily available priest, Borgert said he was able to strengthen his faith during his deployment. He credited regular Mass for allowing him to keep a spiritual routine.
"You’re not really giving up anything, but you rely on it more," he said.
Borgert didn’t see any actual combat, but part of his job as a services squadron commander was mortuary duties. The first time he saw a plane come in with a casket he was forced to pause and come to grips with the stark realities of death and war."Your faith can really help you reflect on that," he said.
Reaching Alaska Natives
Native ministry builds bridges from the church
For years, Gemma Gaudio wanted to return home to her Catholic faith, but the Alaskan Native woman struggled with that first step.
"My right foot wanted to go to church, but my left wanted to keep going," Gaudio recently told the Anchor.
That all changed one day, when she felt called by God to attend Mass at St. Anthony Church in Anchorage. After Mass, several people extended warm greetings, including one woman who invited Gaudio to get involved as a greeter herself.
She took up religion classes at the church and within six months was back in church fulltime.
"I’ve been involved ever since," she said.
Gaudio now serves as a Eucharistic minister and as a member of the church’s pastoral council.
Gaudio also assists with the Native Alaska Ministry of the Archdiocese of Anchorage and is active with the interdenominational and interreligious outreach called Anchorage Faith and Action — Congregations Together (AFACT).
AFACT employs a faith-based approach to address many problems in the city, including issues pertinent to the Alaska Natives.
Gaudio’s story is a perfect example of why the Anchorage Archdiocese’s Native Alaska Ministry is so important, said Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz.
"The Alaska Native community is a significant part of the archdiocese," he explained.
Archbishop Schwietz praised AFACT, of which many local Catholics are members, for bringing so many different faith groups together to address social concerns from a faith-based position.
"AFACT has raised to the consciousness certain concerns and needs of the Native community," he said.
Sister Donna Kramer, from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, heads the Alaska Native Ministry office for the Anchorage Archdiocese and works closely with AFACT.
The archdiocesan ministry serves as a bridge from the church to the Native community, Sister Kramer explained.
"They come to us to talk," she said. "They’ll share some of their pain which makes them stronger to help out more."
Sister Kramer said listening is a crucial part of Native outreach, especially since it is usually taboo to talk about certain issues — like alcoholism.
People are learning, however, that it is important to address the tough issues, Sister Kramer said. Once they do, huge barriers come down and healing begins.
"My listening time is in the car," Sister Kramer added. "They shed years of grief. It is a grace-filled moment to let people share stuff."
And while it can be a painful process, healing strengthens people and can inspire them to help others, she explained.
One key aspect of Alaska Native ministry is the Kateri circle. Named after Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first beatitified Native American, Kateri circles are faith-sharing groups that meet on a regular basis — typically once a week.
"We pray together, sing, do faith formation and sharing," Sister Kramer explained.
In addition to prayer, the gatherings also help plan other ministries and events, such as special liturgies, potlucks and other events.
The idea of a recent reunion for St. Mary’s School (in the Yukon) came from a Kateri group.
"We are trying to attract our Native brothers and sisters back to the church through these events," Gaudio explained.
Special Alaska Native Masses take place on the third Saturday of the month at St. Anthony Church in Anchorage.
Archbishop Schwietz expressed great hope for the Native community. He mentioned that Alaska’s bishops plan to continue with regular listening sessions in rural Alaska to better understand the pressing issues in those predominantly Native regions.
"Then we will reflect together about what we can do for the rural villages and the native community in general," Archbishop Schwietz explained.
He hopes to address issues like subsistence and the influence of modern culture — especially technology. Education and domestic violence are other areas that concern Alaska Natives.
Gaudio said she is proud to be a part of helping meet the spiritual and material needs of her fellow Alaskan Natives. She is already seeing some fruit from her labor and points to the fact that her sister is becoming more interested in the church again.
"She called me one day, expressing interest in going to the Mass," Gaudio said. "I told her I would take her to the Native Mass and she perked up. She is all excited about the reunion and ministry and she is drawing others in."For more information about the Anchorage Archdiocese Native Alaska Ministry, contact Sr. Donna Kramer, DC at (907) 297-7777.
Group voices concern for Native students
AFACT meeting addresses education
Hundreds of people packed Central Lutheran Church in Anchorage, during an impassioned discussion, Feb. 4, regarding the status of Alaska Native education in the Anchorage School District.
The event, sponsored by Anchorage Faith and Action — Congregations Together (AFACT) was a follow up meeting to an action the group held back in 2005, when the School District pledged to run a pilot program at an elementary and middle school to help improve Alaska Native education and test scores.
The latest meeting presented the finding from an independent study of the pilot programs.
Native test scores and graduation rates are up slightly but still need improvement.
Parent after parent testified that much still needs to be done to address the problems associated with educating Alaska Native children. The testimony, sometimes terse, sometimes tearful, pointed out that many Native families feel that they are isolated and not listened to at the school.
"I volunteered, tried to help, talked to the teachers," said Nancy Pickett. "I was given the wait-and-see, pat-me-on-the-head approach and sent on my way."
Pickett’s testimony echoed the feelings of others who testified that their concerns were not being heard.
Superintendent Carol Comeau promised at the end of the meeting that she and her staff remain committed to addressing Alaska Native issues.
She committed to direct resources to expand the Native Pilot Program and also pledged to help the district better engage Alaska Native families.She promised to meet again with the AFACT community in two months.
Homeless outreach stretched thin
Limited funds strain medical services
A health care shortage has strained the ability of Brother Francis Shelter to meet the medical needs of Anchorage’s homeless and low-income residents.
With cutbacks in funding to Anchorage’s Neighborhood Health Center, that agency can no longer provide medical staff and support to the Catholic Social Services-run Brother Francis Shelter clinic.
Providence Family Medicine residents and attending physicians still provide twice-monthly staffing, and Adrian Dominican Sister Jackie Stoll, a nurse practitioner, provides twice-a-week clinics. However, the overall outlook for medical services to the poor in Anchorage is bleak.
Dr. Cathie Schumacher, a physician and member of St. Patrick Church in Anchorage, volunteers between two and four evenings a month at the Brother Francis Shelter clinic.
On those nights, Schumacher sees, first hand, the growing need for additional medical care.
"The clinic at the shelter is basically what you’d call triage," said Schumacher. "We can’t draw blood or do x-rays."
"I really enjoy coming down here," she said.
Sometimes, her son Zach Kaltenborn, a first year medical student, accompanies her.
But more is needed.
The overall health care safety net for homeless and working poor is growing very thin, said Sister Stoll. It’s not just the shelter that’s been affected by the cutbacks, but also Clare House, the Salvation Army and other agencies serving the growing numbers of uninsured.
When the Neighborhood Health Center lost funding, adequate medicines and supplies for the shelter’s clinic became a major problem, Sister Stoll explained.
"But God was really good. Providence (Alaska Medical Center) stepped in and has been providing what we need."
"We treat wounds and a number of skin infections, and we see a lot of respiratory tract infections," Sister Stoll said. "But for chronic things – high blood pressure, diabetes – we have to refer people to the Neighborhood Health Center. Our options are very limited."Adds Schumacher, "The Neighborhood Health Center still has a homeless program – but they’re totally swamped. They’re the only game in town for uninsured people."
And for the homeless, making the trek to a clinic that’s not at the shelter presents another barrier.
Schumacher and her husband, K.C. Kaltenborn, also a physician, have dedicated themselves to helping the uninsured poor in another major program. Both are founding members of Anchorage Project Access, a volunteer health care provider network. It consists of approximately 350 physicians and other health care providers who are willing to provide services to low-income people without insurance."We saw our first patient in December of 2005," said Schumacher, who has spent countless hours since 2001 getting the project on its feet. Today, it has an executive director and paid staff.
Anchorage Project Access serves people with no insurance and documented low incomes.
"A patient must be referred from a primary care physician or another specialist," she said.And for the poor, that primary care physician is often the underfunded and overwhelmed Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
Shelter from the storm
Br. Francis Shelter has a long history of service
Each evening, as temperatures drop and darkness covers the city, a line of homeless men and women forms outside Brother Francis Shelter on Anchorage’s Third Avenue.
Now approaching its 26th year of operation, the outreach to Anchorage’s most destitute population has become one of the city’s best-known and most respected institutions. In recent years, however, the shelter has experienced increased demands for services.
"We’ve already hit capacity (of 240 guests) twice this year," said Dewayne Harris, program director. "The overnight average continues to creep up. In the late 1990s, we saw about 131 a night. In 2007, we saw an average of 171 a night."
The winter, especially the sub-zero temperatures of late, brings a boom in those seeking temporary shelter, evening meals and other services. January saw a nightly average of 201 guests.
Harris said higher energy costs, heating and utilities, and higher rents are forcing more and more people, even the working poor, into homelessness.
While the shelter is now a city landmark, its early origins grew out of a collaboration between the Anchorage Archdiocese and the Municipality of Anchorage.
Brother Francis Shelter was created in response to increased homelessness in Anchorage in the late 1970s. The state was on the heels of the oil boom, and a spate of deaths due to exposure prompted Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley, now retired, to combine forces with then Mayor Tony Knowles to address the issue.
The archbishop brought two religious brothers, Dave Sifferman and Bob Eaton, from Portland to assess the problem, while Mayor Knowles created a Commissioner of Public Safety position and filled it with local Catholic John Franklin (now deceased).
With help from Franklin and the city, the archdiocese opened an initial shelter on the second floor of a vacant court building on Fourth Avenue in 1982. Scores sought safe harbor there, and although Franklin was lenient with the shelter on overcrowding, the fire department eventually had to close the overcapacity refuge in the spring of 1983.
What followed was a mini-revolt by Anchorage’s homeless, organized by Eaton and Sifferman. A homeless camp-in on the downtown park strip grabbed headlines and caught the attention of local citizens.
The city agreed to let the camp-in continue in a "tent city" above Ship Creek. Meanwhile, Franklin located an old warehouse on 3rd avenue and offered it to the archdiocese for $1 a year rent.
The warehouse opened as Brother Francis Shelter in October of 1983. Eaton and Sifferman spent nearly 20 years in Anchorage assisting with the program.
Pat Byrne, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, has been committed to the shelter from the beginning, and has served on the advisory board since day one.
"When I was first involved, it was ‘care not cure,’" said Byrne, meaning that the initial purpose of Brother Francis was simply providing shelter from the elements. Like other shelter founders, Byrne was shocked at the deaths of street people and saw the mandate of Matthew 25:40 ("Insofar as you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me") as the facility’s guiding principle.
Over the years, said Byrne, the shelter has continued its initial mission, but has added others, including case management to help people find training, organize finances, and make a plan for living. Nearly a third of the shelter’s guests enter active case management to help get their lives in order in innumerable ways. The shelter also runs a clinic (see related article), provides showers and laundry and storage lockers.
Byrne said the shelter has always been an incredible ecumenical and community effort. Indeed, in the early days of the shelter other faiths actually contributed more than Catholic parishes.
Today, however, Catholics throughout the archdiocese support the shelter with financial help, clothing drives, Christmas assistance, food servers for the evening meals, and other aid.
"We are so thankful for our connections to the parishes," said Harris.
Providence Health Systems is also a big supporter of the shelter, providing evening meals and helping the clinic.
In 2005, the shelter finally moved out of its original warehouse, one that had been dilapidated and considered "temporary" in 1983. The new shelter, just a few yards away from where the old one once stood, was built through donations, government grants and help from the Rasmuson Foundation. The land was donated by the city.
Fairbanks to file for bankruptcy
Bishop Kettler says it’s the best pastoral option for all
The Fairbanks Diocese plans to keep all 46 of its parishes and both schools in operation, despite the announcement earlier this month that the diocese will file for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler said he had hoped to settle more than 140 claims of childhood sexual abuse against the diocese without resorting to the bankruptcy courts. It became evident earlier this year, however, that the legal costs of settling the claims would quickly drain financial resources of the diocese and leave little money for victim settlements or the continued mission of the church.
The claims of sexual abuse date from the 1950s to the early 1980s.
Settlement talks that began last summer snagged because an insurance company has been reluctant to "participate meaningfully" in the talks, according to a Feb. 13 diocesan announcement.
"While filing for reorganization is not my first choice, I believe that at this time, this is the best way to bring all parties together and to provide for fair and equitable treatment for all who have been harmed," Bishop Kettler said in the announcement.
In a Feb. 14 interview with the Catholic Anchor, Bishop Kettler said there are no plans to cut diocesan staff, but added, "We are certainly going to have to tighten our belts."
That means less travel and smaller budgets as the diocese puts together a reorganization plan that aims to keep its core ministries and mission intact.
Long-term, Bishop Kettler said he hopes the diocese can works its way back to self-sufficiency, but that could be several years away.
For now, the diocese is trying to meet both the needs of abuse victims, while continuing to minister in an area that covers more than 400,000 square miles in Northern Alaska.
"I take my responsibilities as Christ’s Vicar seriously," Bishop Kettler said in a public statement. "I am legally and morally bound to both fulfill our mission and to pursue healing for those injured."
In filing for reorganization, the diocese must first propose a financial plan to the bankruptcy courts about how much money and assets they have available. Robert Hannon, chancellor of the Fairbanks Diocese, said he expects a proposal will be submitted within the next few weeks.
Once information is forwarded to the courts, they will look at the records and determine if the diocese has come forward with as much finances and assets as they are able, Bishop Kettler explained.
If the court agrees, it would then reorganize and manage the finances of the diocese.
Hannon said 12 people in the diocese were accused of sexual misconduct, and more than half of the claims were lodged against just one person, a lay volunteer, now deceased.
Healing for victims, both known and unknown, was a major factor in deciding to file for reorganization, Bishop Kettler said.
"We want to work for healing with those who come forward," he added.
It is expected that part of the reorganization effort would entail a court directive to let people come forward with claims against the diocese within a certain time frame. Once that deadline closes, the diocese could move forward with the financial side of the claims.
"That closes the process without having to wonder if there will be more claims in the future," Bishop Kettler explained.
In the meantime, the diocese will continue its ongoing practice of providing travel expenses and counseling for any abuse victims who seek those services.
In an open letter to parishes, Bishop Kettler said the process of reorganization would open the local church to increased public scrutiny.
"I believe this is a good thing," he wrote. "We will be open and transparent in this process."
The letter concluded with a call for prayer."Please pray for me, for one another, and for all those among us who are hurting."
St. Francis Awards honor stewards
The sheer volume of nominations alone made a deep impact on the selection committee for this year’s Saint Francis awards.
"It’s an unusually high number of nominations this year," said Julie Alfred, associate director of stewardship and development for the Anchorage Archdiocese
While the 75 nominations considered this year were not an all-time record, the awards committee did decide to award a record four awards to the laity, Alfred explained. The awards were announced during the annual banquet Feb. 5 at the Anchorage Hilton.
The archdiocese established the St. Francis Awards back in 2001 to honor then Anchorage Archbishop Roger Hurley as he retired from office. The three categories — youth, religious, and laity — honor those who serve with the Archdiocese of Anchorage in ministry and exemplify the traits of St. Francis of Assisi’s love, humility and dedicated service.
"It’s the highlight of the year…because it is such a positive event," Alfred said. "While we don’t do stewardship for recognition, it is good to recognize those who don’t ever expect it."
She said it is also a great opportunity for people — especially youth — to see positive role models in the local church.
If all of the nominations for Franciscan Sister Camilla Menting could be summed up in one word, it would be "adaptability."
Her adaptability in all kinds of situations was a strong theme in the nominations she received for her St. Francis of Assisi Award in the religious category.
The hardworking nun has now served the Anchorage Archdiocese for more than 20 years in a variety of ministries, the bulk of that at St. Andrew Church in Eagle River.
One nomination praised Sister Menting for working with an autistic girl to help her in catechesis as she prepared for the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Faced with financial cutbacks, Sister Menting has also made personal sacrifices in order to continue serving the church full time, even with reduced funds.
"But the love she has for her parish and her profession keeps her going and never complaining," stated one nomination.
"My mother taught me to be kind, friendly and helpful, "Sister Menting said at the awards banquet Feb. 5. "I just do my work, it’s what I was hired to do."
That simple, cheerful remark reflects one of Sister Menting’s strengths.
"You never hear her complain…she always has a smile on her face," stated one nomination.
On the rare occasions when Sister Menting is not working in the parish, she expresses her love of nature and Alaska’s outdoors through paintings.
"She is a gifted artist …many of her paintings adorn many parishioners homes. I myself have a Menting original in my home," Father Walsh said at the awards banquet.One entry simply wrote, "She just loves the heck out of everybody and it rubs off on everyone around her!"
A gentle defender of life
After nearly four decades, Pam Albrecht continues to advocate for unborn children and their mothers by providing options for women facing crisis pregnancy.
"Pam has a terrific respect for all people that shines through her quiet way," stated one nomination for the St. Francis of Assisi award. "She cares for the soul no matter who they are or where they come from."
For her work with Birthright, Project Rachel, Natural Family Planning and other activities, Albrecht was one of four lay people awarded the St. Francis of Assisi Awards on Feb. 5 at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel.
Back in 1971, Pam played a big role in helping start Birthright, an organization aimed at assisting women through crisis pregnancies by providing resources and personal help.
"Pam worked assiduously — contacting hundreds of doctors, counselors, social workers, clergy, potential volunteers, media and many others to ensure that no resource was overlooked," stated one entry. And she did it without judgment, with "tenderness towards those who struggled."
Her dedication as a pro-life advocate doesn’t stop with Birthright.
In 2002 Albrecht recognized the need for a ministry of healing for women, men and families affected by the life-altering results of an abortion.
Albrecht helped start a local chapter of Project Rachel, an organization that helps provide spiritual healing for women and families affected by abortion.
Albrecht also helped launch an initiative to teach Natural Family Planning, a method of birth control which is in line with Catholic moral teaching.
"Pam keeps us current on new research and developments in this field (while) maintaining the highest standard of Catholic teaching with this program," stated one nomination.
Other comments spoke of the lengths Albrecht goes to in helping others, such as the time she went out on 4th Avenue to talk with prostitutes or to feed the hungry at the Brother Francis Shelter. Nominations also mentioned her humility, something that was evident when she came to accept her award."I’m honored for this — I couldn’t do this without my family, especially my husband," Albrecht said. "This award goes to all the volunteers who’ve helped out with Birthright and Project Rachel."
‘Bridge-builder’ honored for service
One recipient of the annual St. Francis of Assisi awards was not at the banquet to receive his honor, but on a beach in Cancun, getting a well-deserved rest.
Accepting the award on behalf of his father, Danny Esparza, Jr., spoke of the admiration he had for his father Daniel Esparza Sr.
"I strive every day to be like him," Esparza said of his father. "He works so hard in this community, especially with the Latin America Community."
The elder Esparza is an active member at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage, and is known as someone you can count on to give a helping hand no matter the task.
"Daniel is the person you call when you want a special dinner prepared for 10 to 400 people," one nomination entry stated.
Another spoke of his dedication to see a task through — from preparation to clean up.
In addition to the long list of church activities Esparza helps with, some nominations pointed out how he also takes his faith and lives it within the larger community.
"Daniel makes sure that he takes what he gets on Sundays and carries it over with him into his life and work with the local (Hotel and Restaurant) union," said Jim Caldarola, director of the office of stewardship.
Esparza’s also a staunch defender of the Latin American community — helping to ensure that their rights are upheld. Many spoke of the key role he played in helping organize an immigration rally in Anchorage to make sure that the dignity of all people’s rights is upheld."His compassionate side also helps him to be a bridge-builder between cultures," one entry said. "He is a true intermediary who uses his strong relationships to facilitate communication and understanding — our parish is more unified due to his presence."
Inspired to serve out of gratitude and appreciation
When Our Lady of the Lake celebrated its move from a mission to an official parish this summer, those who attended the ceremony walked by beautiful gardens outside the Big Lake area church.
The gardens not only enhance the parish, but also serve several purposes — both spiritual and material. First off, it is a memorial to deceased parishioners and second it serves as a vegetable garden to help feed the hungry.
The man behind the gardens is Kevin Reider, one of four lay people awarded this year’s St. Francis of Assisi Award for being an outstanding member of the laity.
"For Kevin, it’s not who gets credit for what, but the end result that counts," one nomination form stated.
Besides the gardens, Reider also helped establish a local chapter of the St. Vincent De Paul Society to help people with food, rent, medical and legal assistance in the upper Mat-Su Valley. He was motivated to found the local chapter after a local food bank closed its doors.
Reider is active both in his parish and in the larger Big Lake community, serving as a volunteer firefighter and member of the Lions club. Often times he works to coordinate various groups he’s involved with towards a common goal.
"Over the years, the residents of Big Lake have come to know Kevin as a caring, thoughtful ‘go-to’ guy for help or direction in getting their various needs met," stated one nomination.
Reider said all his service projects boil down to a few fundamental basics.
"Gratitude and appreciation is what it is all about," Reider told the Anchor. "The most important words in life are to ‘treat others as you want to be treated.’ Do that and following Christ’s teachings is easy."
Reider also made sure to point out that his work is a team effort that could not happen without the help of his wife, Annie.
"Truly from the bottom of my heart, this (award) belongs to my wife Annie," Reider said. "Behind every good man is a great woman!"
Award honors lifelong servant of the Church
Father Leo Walsh stepped aside as emcee when the final St. Francis Award for the laity was announced in Anchorage earlier this month.
"It’s in order to make sure that I didn’t have a hand in choosing this," he quipped to the audience.
That’s because his mother, Beverly Walsh, was the last of four award winners in the laity category.
"From the time Walsh was a child, she’s been a model of service," said Father Scott Medlock at the awards ceremony.
One nomination praised Beverly Walsh for helping to raise her younger siblings growing up. She "learned to deal with financial hardships" and still works hard to this day, the nomination stated.
That dedication and eye for the needs of others continued throughout Walsh’s adulthood.
Those who nominated Walsh pointed to her work on the board of Catholic Social Services, her work with the Archdiocesan Finance Council and her role as a founding member of the Bishops’ Attic.
"She helped the fledgling group find space, took care of the business details like insurance, payroll, volunteer and other roles," stated another entry. "The Attic has flourished and has contributed substantial financial resources to the Archdiocese."
"Beverly has financial resources and shares them willingly, but her gifts to others extends so far beyond that," another nomination read.
One nomination summed up Walsh’s commitment and service to the church.
"Beverly sees a need, she sees a solution and she sees it through.""Hearing all those things I’ve been involved with, I must be tired," Walsh joked as she received the award. "I am blessed for being able to participate in the things that I have been able to do."
Despite obstacles, youth makes God a priority
Palmer High School junior Ransome Kelly sees obstacles not as roadblocks but as challenges.
That tenacity and dedication, coupled with an enthusiastic spirit led the awards committee to select Kelly as one of the youth recipients.
Last summer, he logged hundreds of miles biking to St. Michael Church in Palmer, four miles from his house, to help volunteer at the parish.
"One day I lost a pedal to my bike, that was kind of tough to make the ride in," Kelly told the Anchor, admitting that he lost the pedal trying to go over a jump he found on the way.
"Typical teen stuff," he said sheepishly.
But his heart, spirit and willingness to help out at church are anything but "typical teen stuff" according to one nomination.
Over the summer he volunteered more than 200 hours of his time for the church. The time was not for community service or school, but "of his own accord," according to the nomination.
That time included activities like helping out with the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference, assisting younger children or just helping with chores around the parish, like sweeping the parking lot.
"The church looked at hiring a professional service to sweep the parking lot, but Ransome organized a volunteer group to come in and do it instead," Ransome’s dad, Tom, told the Anchor.
His mother Toni said Ransome’s had a deep spiritual sense and commitment from an early age and was excited to prepare for the sacraments.
"I remember him coming home at five years of age, begging to be Catholic and to be baptized," Toni said. Toni is a convert to Catholicism and brought her children into the faith soon after.
"Ransome has overcome obstacles to stand out among all parishioners as a fine example of Christian Discipleship," one nomination stated. "Each activity Ransome participates in receives his full energy and endless enthusiasm…(we) can’t imagine what St. Michael Parish would be like without Ransome."
St. Elizabeth youth honored for New Orleans work
A mission trip last summer taught four teens from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church what it means to build the kingdom of God— both literally and spiritually. Their effort and commitment to service earned them a St. Francis Award for Youth.
Katey Barnes, Carol Franks, Alayna Mackey and Christine Pochop raised money and worked to finance a mission trip to New Orleans, where they helped rebuild houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The teens labored hard under subtropical Louisiana sun, gutting moldy homes down to the bare wooden studs to help make way for construction crews. Their efforts saved families almost $10,000 dollars in construction costs.
One award nomination for the teens recalled how the youth shared the experience and how it helped them truly understand what sacrifice meant.
The labor was tough — eight hours of sifting through debris and demolition of rotting drywall. Another entry said it helped the youth realize how lucky they were to have a house, food, water and a bed to sleep in at night.
It also helped strengthen the teen’s spiritual life and commitment.
"I felt more in touch with my religion. I feel closer to God through the work we did," Carol Franks told the Anchor this summer.
Christine Pochop told the Anchor she came back spiritually renewed and committed to service — even making time to help volunteer locally with Habitat for Humanity.
"They learned that they were not the only ones called by God to serve others in desperate need," said one nomination. "It was an experience in seeing how God calls people together to make a difference in each others’ life.
At the Feb. 5 awards ceremony at the Anchorage Hilton, Father Ben Torreto, who accompanied the girls to New Orleans, said it was a chance to experience the greater church.
"Our experience in New Orleans was an experience with human life," he said. "They saw that through the visit, (service) is a life-long commitment to help out the people of God."
Irishman honored for self-sacrifice
The light Irish brogue of St. Patrick’s Deacon Felix Maguire is a common sound to many Catholics in the Anchorage Archdiocese.
Deacon Maguire’s served in the Archdiocese for more than 25 years at both St. Patrick Church and Holy Family Cathedral and in other roles as well.
What is not so well known is the incredible work Deacon Maguire does behind the scenes, most often without recognition.
This year that changed, as the St. Francis of Assisi Awards committee selected Deacon Maguire as one of two winners in the religious category.
"The list of programs and activities that Deacon Maguire is involved in is too long to list here," said emcee Father Leo Walsh at the awards banquet Feb 5.
Some of Deacon Maguire’s behind-the-scenes include coordinating the archdiocesan deacon program — which helps in the formation of future deacons. He also started the Deacon’s Fund, which helps support those who need help with transportation needs (bus tokens, etc).
"He is in the fullest nature of the term, self-sacrificing — a servant who uses all of his skills and nature to do good for others," said one entry.
Many pointed to a story about how Deacon Maguire helped a mother who was visiting Alaska over Christmas.
The mother visited Alaska from Michigan with her three small children and husband. Unfortunately her husband went missing while in the state, and the woman wanted to take her children back home, but was struggling financially.
When Deacon Maguire realized this, he immediately went to work to coordinate the resources needed to organize a trip for the family to return home — even making sure they had the proper arrangements once back in the lower-48. Deacon Maguire shared the experience at the awards event, especially taking her to the airport.
"I remember watching her take all the luggage and children through the ticket gate and security," he recalled. "She did it all with great patience, methodically bringing one child through, buckling him into the stroller, then she went on to the next child."
Witnessing the mother’s love touched him deeply, he recounted. It was a vivid example of why he serves the church.
"That mother’s love is far more deserving of this award than me," he said.
News & Notes
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles that highlight religious orders in the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Adrian Dominican Sisters, a congregation which shares in the tradition of the international Dominican Order founded by St. Dominic in 13th century France. Their motherhouse is located in Adrian, Michigan.
The Adrian Dominican mission is focused on the mission of Jesus. They carry out this work by discovering and identifying themselves as women called together to share faith and life with one another. They also go into the world as bearers and recipients of Christ’s love – co-creators of Jesus’ justice and peace. Practically, the sisters work in areas of education, health care and social services.
Eight Adrian Dominican sisters serve in Alaska, five in the Archdiocese of Anchorage and three in the Diocese of Juneau. Those working in the Anchorage Archdiocese are listed below.
*Sr. Ann Fallon works as the Superintendent of Catholic Schools.
*Sr. Jo Gaugier works as a formation consultant with the Office of Evangelization.
*Sr. Lorraine Reaume works at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in pastoral work and preaching.
*Sr. Jackie Stoll works at the St. Francis Shelter and also works with the archdiocesan parish-nursing program and as the Safe Environment Coordinator for the archdiocese.
*Sr. Ashley Gonzalez is a novice in residence who is experiencing community life and ministry, while volunteering at Clare House and exploring the ministries of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage. She is visiting Alaska as part of her novitiate.
During the 1970’s, two Adrian Dominican Sisters were missionaries to Fairbanks, Alaska as educators. They worked at Immaculate Conception School and Monroe Catholic High School.
Each year, the congregation evaluates its life as community and the effectiveness of its ministry in Alaska. Many of the sisters in Alaska are now in the middle of a three-year commitment to the Anchorage Archdiocese. They will continue discerning the possibility of a longer stay.
Engaging Muslim series continues
A public talk, "Islam and Diversity," will be held on March 2 by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, the chairman of the Fiqh council of North America. From 2-4 p.m. Siddiqi will speak in the William Wendy Williamson Auditorium at UAA.
Siddiqi is a prominent American Muslim, an Islamic scholar and a theologian. He is the past-president of the Islamic Society of North America and has advised President George W. Bush.
The upcoming presentation is part of the ongoing Engaging Muslims program, based out of Alaska Pacific University and directed by Dr. Regina Boisclair, the Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Theology.
For more information, visit http://religion.alaskapacific.edu.
Regulation regarding politics and religion
With the Nov. 4, national elections less than nine months away, the Anchorage Archdiocese has issued a reminder about the new IRS regulations regarding parishes and political activity.
According to IRS regulations, parishes are exempt from federal income taxation and are thus prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, including publishing or distributing statements.
A parish may, however, engage in non-partisan voter education activities without jeopardizing its tax-exemption. They may, for example, engage in limited amounts of lobbying and other activities.
The IRS regulations are available online at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rr-07-41.pdf.
The Web site provides an overview of the rules regarding political activity, defines key terms such as "candidate" and "voter education," and references prior Revenue Rulings on candidate questionnaires and other matters.
The website also presents and analyzes 21 factual examples of groups that sponsor or participate in various non-partisan or political activities. These examples clarify both permitted and prohibited forms of voter education, issue advocacy, and other political activities.
Community baby shower
On March 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Soroptimist International of Anchorage and the Soroptimist of Cook Inlet will hold their annual Baby Shower at the Northway Mall near Gottschalks.
The Baby shower will help benefit a number of non-profit organizations in south central Alaska, including the Clare House, the Salvation Army, Booth Home and AWAIC.
Outdoor Stations of the Cross
An outdoor Stations of the Cross will be held March 1 at 7 p.m. The walk will meander through the woods at Holy Spirit Center and culminate at Resurrection Chapel. After the Stations, the group will gather for hot cocoa and Taize prayer by candle light. Participants are encouraged to bring snowshoes.
For more information call 346-2343 or log on to www.holyspiritcenterak.org.
Alaska abortions decrease for third straight year
The number of abortions in Alaska dropped by 11.5 percent between 2006 and 2007. According to the latest report by the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics, there were 1,701 abortions in the state last year, down from 1,923 in 2006 and 1,956 in 2005.
Women ages 15-29 saw the greatest decline in overall abortions. In 2006 they accounted for 1,838. One year later, that number fell to 1,575 or 263 fewer. The numbers of abortions from older women, ages 30-45, remained unchanged between 2006 and 2007. In each of those years, they accounted for 425 abortions.
In 2005, Alaska’s informed consent law required the Department of Health and Social Services to begin maintaining a Web site that contains information on the stages of fetal development, pregnancy, abortion and other family planning options. Before performing an abortion, physicians are required to inform women about the information from the Web site.
For the entire report, visit www.hss.state.ak.us/dph/bvs/data/default.htm and scroll down to the 2007 ITOP report.
Holy Saturday Vigil times
Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz has determined that Easter Vigil Masses should not begin prior to 8 p.m. on Holy Saturday Night, March 22. Any exceptions to this rule need approval by the archbishop. The actual setting of the sun on March 22 is 8:21 p.m.
Governor signs ‘Safe Surrender’ bill
JUNEAU — Governor Sarah Palin signed House Bill 29 into law on Feb. 11. The bill allows a mother to safely surrender a newborn child to police and other authorities without threat of prosecution as long as there is no evidence that the child’s been abused.
"We support and want to encourage healthy families and have a mother and father protect their babies," Governor Palin said at the press teleconference. "But the reality is sometimes parents do horrendous things to children, so we want to do everything we can to protect a child."
"Even if we save one life, it is worth it," said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak.
Rep. LeDoux sponsored the bill.
"It is delightful that this bill would pass with bipartisan support," Rep. LeDoux said. "It had the support of Planned Parenthood, the Alaska Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Baptist Temple—you don’t often see that support in a bill."
Alaska becomes the 49th state in the union to have a safe surrender bill, only ahead of Nebraska, which has a similar legislative initiative on the docket this year.
Implementing ‘old Mass’ takes time to do right
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
On July 7, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued the Moto Proprio "Summorum Pontificum." In this apostolic letter the pope examined the development of the Roman Missal. He traced the development from the time of St. Gregory the Great until the last changes that were authorized by Pope John Paul II.
While Pope Benedict XVI sees the Roman Missal approved by Paul VI in 1970 as the "ordinary expression of the Lex orandi (Law of Prayer) of the Latin Rite Catholic Church," he also authorized the Roman Missal approved by Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII as an "extraordinary expression of that same Lex orandi."
Pope Benedict goes on to say that these two expressions of the Lex orandi will not lead to a division of the Lex credendi (Law of Belief).
Pope Benedict has expanded the special indult, "Quattor abhinc anno," issued by Pope John Paul II in 1984. In the 1988 document, "Ecclesia Dei," Pope John Paul II requested that the indult be given generous usage. In "Summorum Pontificum," Pope Benedict indicates that it is permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the Roman Missal, issued by Blessed John XXIII in 1962, without requesting a special indult from the Holy See or from one’s bishop.
Every priest may celebrate the "old Mass" without the people on any day except that of the Sacred Triduum. If people, of their own free will, ask to be admitted to this celebration, they are to be permitted to do so.
In parishes where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, pastors should ensure the welfare of these faithful. The pastor should do so in a way that avoids discord and favors unity of the whole Church. While there may be multiple celebrations of the "old Mass" during the week, there may be only one such celebration on a Sunday.
In a letter to the bishops, issued the same day, Pope Benedict makes some interesting statements. He notes that he anticipates a "liberalization" of the 1962 Missal. There would be new prefaces and the potential addition of new saints. Additionally, a priest must be willing to celebrate the Novus Ordo issued by Pope Paul VI. Thus, a priest must be willing to celebrate the "new Mass" if he wished to ever celebrate the "old Mass." He is prohibited from only celebrating the 1962 Rite.
As a result of the Moto Proprio, and the accompanying letter, the bishops in the United States have asked for clarification on a number of points. To date those clarifications have not been received.
In order to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, several challenges must be dealt with.
First, the 1962 Roman Missal must be celebrated with all of the rubrics in place. These would include a sanctuary that has 3 steps, an altar rail, and an altar that does not face the people and is permanently attached to a wall.
The priest must use all of the approximately 400 rubrics required for a licit and valid celebration of the Mass.
The priest must be able to use the Latin language in the appropriate fashion.
All of the vestments must be those that are approved for the 1962 Roman Missal
There must be a stable community that desires and will benefit from the celebration of the 1962 Rite.
There are also some effects on the participants in these Masses.
Women, for instance, would not be permitted to be present at the Baptism of their children. Women would also need to be "Churched" (a rite of purification after childbirth) before they could return to the sacraments.
There would be no lectors or eucharistic ministers.
The readings for Mass would be from the one year and not three year cycle.
All servers would have to be male.
So where do we go from here?
Some priests in the Anchorage Archdiocese are now being trained in the Latin language. They are also learning the rubrics of the "old Mass."
We are discerning potential locations for the liturgy.
We are exploring potential physical changes in the sanctuary.There is still much work to be done and I ask that you continue to pray as we try to discern the best way to implement the teachings of this Apostolic Letter.
Archbishop Schwietz: We must protect children from abuse
In response to the terrible scandals of sexual and physical abuse committed by clergy and church employees over the last decades, my brother bishops and I implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (USCCB, 2003)
The Charter represents our commitment "with God’s help and in full collaboration with our people, to continue to work to restore the bonds of trust that unite us." (USCCB, 2003)
In this Charter, we have committed ourselves to establish ‘safe environment’ programs and to provide education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children.
The Archdiocese is engaged in this process through our ongoing safe environment training programs for all priests, religious, deacons, employees and volunteers who have regular contact with children, youth, or vulnerable adults. It is my belief that education about sexual abuse and misconduct can help raise awareness in order to both discourage sexual and physical abuse, and recognize it as quickly as possible.
While we will continue to be engaged in this educational process in a number of forums, using a variety of methods, I have approved the use of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) training programs for Archdiocesan employees and volunteers who have regular contact with minors or vulnerable adults.
I am satisfied that STAR’s educational programs are consistent with the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church.
In addition to the STAR program, I have also become aware of the need to focus more attention on providing educational opportunities for our children and youth. I believe by educating youth and children about issues of personal safety, we can help raise awareness in order to both discourage sexual and physical abuse, and recognize it as quickly as possible.
While we will continue to be engaged in this educational process, using a variety of methods, I have approved the use of two programs. The first, "Called to Protect" produced by Praesidium, will be used in the archdiocesan schools. The second program, "You Matter" produced by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and used here with their permission, is designed to be used in parish-based faith formation classes. I am satisfied that both of these educational programs are age and grade appropriate and are consistent with the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church.
If you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Sr. Jackie Stoll, OP, the Archdiocesan Safe Environment Coordinator at 297-7736.
Sincerely Yours in Christ and Mary,
Roger L. Schwietz, OMI
Archbishop of Anchorage
Orange Crush and baptismal waters
I have a hunch that most of us have a "water story" in us. I make that claim because water has obviously been part of our very existence since the moment of our conception.
A personal recollection of my own comes from my teenage years. The scenario is this. In the unbearable heat of a North Dakota August, my younger brother and I were assigned to gather bundles of wheat into piles (shocks). Our days’ water supply, a wet burlap-covered ceramic jug, sat in the shade a half mile away. As the two of us were debating who would trudge back to retrieve it, we spied our uncle, John Keller, driving down the field in his grey Model A Ford. (This was the uncle, by the way, who was proprietor of a very respectable local bar.)
As he drew near, he yelled, "You guys thirsty?"
"Yeah, sort of," we say.
"Well, look here on the back seat," he says.
We look, and there before our eyes was a tub filled with chunks of ice and dozens of bottles of cold, Orange Crush! (Those old enough will remember the dark, orange-colored crinkly bottles.)
"Take a couple," he said. "Drink ‘em before they get warm."
Obviously, we did not need a second invitation!
Uncle John, God rest his soul, is now long deceased, but the memory of his August journey of mercy to the harvest fields of North Dakota still remains strong with me. It’s all about water of course. Well, in this case, Orange Crush, but it’s all the same.
It is safe to say that personal memories often turn out to be universal metaphors, experiences common to us all. Whose life is not affected by water?
Californians who depend on the Colorado River to irrigate vast vegetable fields are getting worried. Folks who live along both sides of the Rio Grande worry whether there will eventually be enough water for all. Arabs and Israelis battle each other over water "rights." Global warming experts predict eventual flooding in low-lying coastal regions.
All of this tells us that this precious commodity, this source of life that we so take for granted, is becoming more and more precious.
All this comes to mind as we read the "water scriptures" for this Third Sunday of Lent: The story of the Israelites wandering in the hot and dry Sinai desert and the surprising gush of water emanating from a spring under a rock. "It’s all God’s doing they said…a sign that God cares for people."
The Gospel tells the lovely story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who meet at Jacob’s well. Both, it turns out, were thirsty, but in different ways, Jesus for water and the woman for God. So there is this beautiful trade-off: Water in exchange for wisdom. Not a bad deal!
So, on this Sunday we join our brothers and sisters, the catechumens, on their desert journey to the font of baptism. They long for the waters that will welcome them into the Church of Jesus Christ where they will soon be able to satisfy their thirst for something even deeper and more sacred.
The rest of us, of course, recall that journey on each Lord’s Day as we enter God’s Church and bless ourselves with that same water. We know that we will keep coming back here Sunday after Sunday because this is the place where the life of Christ is shared, the place where we know that we will never go thirsty again.
Odd, isn’t it, that something so simple and clear, something so satisfying can speak to us of eternal life? Well… maybe it isn’t so odd.
The writer is Anchorage Archdiocese director of Pastoral Education. He also serves as canonical pastor and coordinator of parishes without resident priests.
Putting God before the ‘Benjamins’
Houses aren’t selling, interest rates are dropping but so is the stock market and the "R-word" is on the lips of many a financial advisor, journalist and politician.
Somehow the subject has also found its way into the almost-daily discussions of my own household: How will we fair in the seemingly pending recession?
Our investments in the stock market continue to drop and as a young couple, we even know a few friends on the brink of bankruptcy. Through God’s blessing we aren’t in too bad of shape. But my income is based on freelance work that isn’t "recession-proof," and my husband and I have found ourselves consumed by the planning of just how we are going to make ends meet: Will we make enough for food, bills, taxes, extras?
We are not affluent in the Western sense, but we’ve always had enough to eat and a roof over our heads. Until recently, this seemed like enough. While we discussed finances some, the recent bombardment of sudden financial doom on the news has caused our financial worries to skyrocket.
During the last two months, we’ve gone from discussing finances a few times a month to a few times a day without noticing the change. The strangest thing is: we are not making any less money than we were a year ago. And while bills have shifted, we really don’t spend much more either. The biggest change is that our societal radar deems that it’s important for us to fret over money.
Last evening, as the discussion reared its ugly head once more, my husband made a striking point. "Imagine if we spent as much time focused on God as we do on money." The statement hit me like a ton of bricks. For weeks, I’ve prayed about what to give up or add for Lent. I’ll admit, for many years it’s been the absence of some kind of food, such as chocolate or meat, and it isn’t always a completely selfless act: the scale is sometimes lighter by Easter and this year I wanted to do something different, something more meaningful for me.
I instantly recalled a section of Scripture that I read almost two months ago from the Gospel of Matthew. It was just before our financial concerns increased. I read the passage out loud to my husband later that day. Matthew 6:24 sums up the passage: "No man can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money."
With that passage in mind, we discovered what we are "giving up" for Lent. For several years now, each morning, my husband and I wake a half hour earlier than required so we can talk before heading for work. In the past, we took this time to discuss current events, arts, religion, our family, just about anything.
More recently, our talks were all about the Benjamins. And so for Lent, we are giving that up. Instead of focusing on money, we are taking that half-hour to pray, read Scripture, and discuss how we can invite God into our lives. Our financial situation hasn’t changed, but somehow, just committing that time to God makes the surrounding financial climate less of a concern. Worrying won’t change a thing. God knows our needs and will provide if we are open to him.
No matter our financial worries – real or imaginary – committing to tithe and trust God is quite possibly a pathway to real peace.
The writer is a freelance journalist who lives in Soldotna.
Those first heady days of Lent are over
Nearing the halfway point of Lent, we might pause to consider the journey so far.
Three weeks ago, with the drama of Ash Wednesday freshly marked upon the foreheads, Catholics embarked from local parishes and into the market place.
These were the heady days of Lent, when chocolate, alcohol and tobacco were newly sworn off so that the faithful might embark on a rigorous spiritual journey of transformation.
Of course, it’s been about three weeks since then and there’s been ample opportunity to fudge on Lenten resolutions. Perhaps we’ve slept through a few prayer times or given into a chocolate attack or two. Works of mercy might also have suffered from the demands of daily chores and weekend commitments.
These Lenten setbacks just go to show that we are not Jesus in the desert. Forget about giving up food and water, it’s hard enough to resist the ice cream box and remember to pray before bed.
But this is what Lent is all about. It is a microcosm of the spiritual struggle to die to self so that we might live in Christ. Lent just shines a spotlight on problem areas. By swearing off little pleasures we see how much we run to them for contentment and comfort.
The ultimate goal, however, is not to live a life void of chocolate or movies but to train ourselves to be able to follow the will of God. When our wills are weak and flabby, they have a hard time doing anything but gratifying immediate desires. With a little work, the will grows stronger – not so we can do what we want, but so we can do what Christ asks.In the weeks ahead, let us dig a little deeper. Even as we trip and stumble down the long narrow road to Easter, Christ is present. He is faithful. Resolve to get up again. Turn away from sin and embrace the Gospel. This will take a lifetime but it begins today.
Boring and irrelevant?
I used to think I was a bit out of step with my generation – more like a throwback from an older age.
Recently, however, as I scoured through dozens of articles and national reports about the state of young adults in America, I began to question my uniqueness.
By all accounts, young adults (ages 20-45) are bored with church, scared of long-term commitments and suspicious of authority. They also tend to mooch off their parents and wander the globe with very little sense of purpose.
The overall picture points to a generation of highly mobile and loosely committed wanderers, whose parents can’t quite figure them out.
Now, I don’t claim to fit that entire bill but the more I read, the more I saw bits of my own life.
According to the reports, the average male marries at age 27.5 (I married at 28). After college, young adults frequently change jobs and wander the world (Since graduating, I’ve had 8 jobs and 6 different homes). The average young adult takes several breaks during college (I took 3 breaks and 7 years to get a bachelor’s degree).
I’m not all that special.
Now 33 years old, I fall into Generation X. We share a lot in common with our younger counterparts, Generation Y (ages 18 to 30), and together make up more than 105 million Americans.
The surprising thing about these generations is that many of us tend to appreciate a more traditional expression of Christianity.
Christian Smith is a leading sociologist of religion and a Notre Dame scholar, famous for studying the religion of America’s youth.
In the January issue of First Things, Smith reviewed Robert Wuthnow’s new book, "After the Baby Boomers." In the review Smith describes the religious longings of young adults.
"(T)hey don’t want mega-congregations or plastic palm trees or Christianized lyrics to sing to Cat Stevens tunes," he says.
Instead, they long for things like authentic religious community, group projects in the church and a growing love for "candles and incense."
Dominican Father Steve Maekawa shared similar observations when I interviewed him for an article last month. As vocations director for the Western Dominican Province, Father Maekawa travels the country speaking to young men who are considering the religious life. He’s noticed that many of todays young people are drawn to traditional teachings and practices of the church.
Father Maekawa suspected that it has to do with a longing for something greater than us – something ancient and holy in a world full of recyclables and constant upgrades.
I know many of my fellow young adults have had enough of freewheeling, open-ended adventures. They’ve walked the cities of the world and backpacked across Europe. They’ve bartended, coffee-shopped and switched jobs and lovers too many times.
When it comes to church, many young adults are more drawn to hymns and Gregorian chants than pop-tune worship songs. Others have a genuine desire to learn the traditions and teachings of the church.
They may not be the majority but they are a growing bunch.
Young adults want a faith that is dangerous and demanding — maybe even life threatening. Anything less eventually leads to boredom.
I know young people can sometimes bewilder their Baby Boomer parents, especially when they don’t see them attending church at all. Sometimes Boomers assume church needs updating in order to be relevant to the youth.
I came across this view most recently when I read the editor’s comments in the Dec. 28th issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
"(R)eturning to a pre-Vatican II worldview will not serve the needs of a generation facing the challenges of the modern age," writes Rita Larivee. "Like it or not, we live in an age of great skepticism about any ideology or authority that claims to have all the answers. We cannot simply ignore the fact that millions of younger Catholics are alienated from the church and find little meaning in the rituals and language of a religion they regard as irrelevant to their lives."
Well, yes and no.
Young adults don’t want a religion full of rituals and rubrics that bewilder them. And dogmatic teachings won’t do any good if there is no connection to life on the ground.
But that doesn’t mean we need to purge the church of all it’s "pre-Vatican II trappings" or downsize and dilute the traditions so they are more palatable for modern sensibilities.
A quick study of the more vibrant religious and lay movements popping up in the church shows evidence that many young people are drawn to the intensity of a rigorous faith.
Just look at the millions of young people who flock to World Youth Day for a week of liturgies, sacraments and catechesis.
If new movements and outreaches embrace the church in all her richness without shying away from the tough questions that young adults often raise, I suspect there will be less and less folks who find religion "irrelevant to their lives."
Young adults are full of energy and zeal to change the world. This fervor is a blessing if the church can figure out how to seize this excitement and provide outreaches where young people can grow in their faith, share it with others and put it into concrete action.
Sociologist Smith suggests "a countercultural Church that will boldly preach the devastating and liberating message of the Gospel."
Sounds anything but boring.
Letters to the Editor
Early church women were leaders
Those who were not informed about Sister of St. Joseph Christine Schenk’s recent talk, "Women and the Word," missed a fantastic growth opportunity.
Those who attended the presentation at Alaska Pacific University last month were moved by the enlightening images of women in the early church, some of which are beautiful archaeological frescoes and mosaics depicting women in church leadership roles. Sister Christine did not make a single disparaging remark about the church, yet our local leadership essentially banned her presentation. Sister Christine merely pointed out the fact that Jesus welcomed women as close disciples (Luke 8:1-3) and that St. Paul accepted women such as Prisca as co-workers (Romans 16:3). Sister Christine also spoke about the archaeologists who have uncovered evidence of these women as church leaders, despite the fact that male church leaders have suppressed women’s leadership.
Why can’t our church leaders handle a Sister of Saint Joseph presenting facts about early church history? Maybe we have entered a new Dark Age in which archaeologists, historians, biblical scholars and sisters like Sister Christine are the stewards of our heritage.
Editor’s note: Some months ago the Archdiocese of Anchorage was contacted about the possibility of using parish property for a presentation by Sister of St. Joseph Christine Schenk. After research, it was determined that Sister Schenk had a history in print and in presentations where the content was clearly contrary to Catholic Magisterial teaching. A decision was made that church property should not be used by someone who may state beliefs contrary to defined Catholic teaching. Another venue was found for the presentation.
Stay informed about pre-mature births
I recently read the Jan. 25 Anchor article, "Pro-life groups united again" about the healed rift between the Anchorage Archdiocese and the Alaska Right to Life organization. As a mother of three pre-term children, I would like to thank and applaud Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz for his careful review of the issues and his wisdom. Unfortunately, I am a woman who suffers from high-risk pregnancies. I suffered from severe preeclampsia with the birth of my first child. Without access to quick, pre-term delivery my child and I would have certainly died.
Fortunately, my children were far enough along not to suffer any ill effects from their premature births. I am all too familiar with other families, however, who are still dealing with the fallout from these traumatic pregnancies. They cherish and mourn their children who were lost to premature births.Providence Hospital has a great reputation for their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and it would be horrifying if children who needed their services most didn’t have access to it because of misinformation. I encourage anyone who is (or might become) pregnant to visit and find out more about this devastating pregnancy disease.
Reader praises Holy Rosary Academy
I would like to thank Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, O.M.I., for celebrating Catholic Schools Week with Holy Rosary Academy by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the campus (Feb. 1). Catholic education is a not a luxury; it is an obligation of the Catholic community, and as the newest member of the board of trustees at Holy Rosary Academy, I see firsthand the beautiful work that this school is doing.
Exciting things are happening at HRA this year as it enters its 20th year of faithfully providing Catholic schooling in the Archdiocese of Anchorage. In addition to the high school division being named a top-fifty Catholic High School by the national Catholic High School Honor Roll for the fourth consecutive year, the elementary grade students continue to outperform national test score averages. Dr. Greg Froelich is working with all the teachers to further strengthen the outstanding curriculum.
The challenges of our time demand well-formed and well-informed Catholics. Holy Rosary teachers are working hard to help students accomplish both. I thank them for their dedication and service.