It has been a very exciting past two months! As most of you know, my appointment to Anchorage began with a phone call I received on the evening of September 24th. What ensued was a very quick transition from announcement (October 4) to installation (November 9.) Some have indicated that probably represents some sort of world record. I have yet to really ‘come up for air.’
Just for good measure, one of my dear friends who came for the installation ceremonies ended up getting quite ill during his visit, entering the hospital here on November 10 and was discharged early this morning. The silver lining in that story is that at least I have gotten to know our Catholic Hospital and staff really well in the past twelve days! I am very grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Providence Hospital for the professional and loving care of my friend. We are blessed in Anchorage to have such a group of healthcare professionals carrying out our Catholic mission!
Before I get into the heart of this post, I wish to recognize the work of Walter Pruchnik, who has spent no small amount of time in recent weeks renovating and migrating this blog to the Archdiocese of Anchorage. He is also the one who originally designed the blog nearly seven years ago. Thanks, Walter! Great job!
One thing that has quickly revealed itself about Anchorage is its rich, cultural diversity. Saturday evening I joined a group of natives from around the Archdiocese for a special Christ The King celebration known as the King Islander’s Mass. King Island is located in the Bering Sea, west of Alaska, and for many years was home to a small group of natives known as Inupiat. In speaking with one of their elders Saturday night, he said that the Alaskan natives do not refer to different ‘tribes.’ He said that is a term more associated with the natives in the lower 48 states. Rather, here the custom is to refer to various groups as “people from …”
King Island is a relatively small island, which rises steeply out of the sea. The Inupiat built their homes on stilts, and were mostly isolated from the rest of the world for six to seven months a year, due to the harsh winter conditions. Much of their time in those months was spent socializing, drumming and dancing. During the 70’s the local school was closed, and the children were removed from the island to attend school on the mainland. It was not much longer before the rest of the community followed. Click on the link below to see some of the drumming and dancing performed Saturday evening.
My first Sunday in Alaska I celebrated Mass at the Native Hospital, and met many natives there. I am so moved by their simplicity and joy. I look forward to meeting many more and learning much more about their traditions and way of life. It is beautiful to hear them sing the Lord’s Prayer in their native language.
There were other groups of natives also present for this celebration Saturday night. Following Mass there was a social with a pot luck dinner and the group was entertained with some traditional drumming and dancing.
Sunday morning I celebrated Mass at Holy Family Cathedral for the closing of the Holy Door, and the Jubilee Year of mercy. I am grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Francis for drawing the Church’s attention to the need for a greater experience of mercy in our world. I pray this Jubilee Year has been a time of grace for you, and that all of us are better equipped to be more forgiving and merciful in all of our relationships.
Now, I look forward to spending more time with my staff and getting fully ‘spun up’ on the state of the Church in Anchorage. It is already evident that I have a great and dedicated group of people working on behalf of this local Church. They are the ones who made the installation ceremonies a reality, providing wonderful hospitality to all of our guests, and making a quick installation run as smoothly as possible. I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Tomorrow evening I will make my first journey out of Anchorage, travelling north to Wasilla to spend the evening with the local pastor, and celebrate Thanksgiving Day Mass at Sacred Heart church. I have much to give thanks for this year. If you are in the neighborhood Thanksgiving Day, please stop by for the 10:00 Mass at Sacred Heart in Wasilla.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!