Tag Archives: Archdiocese of Anchorage

Advent Conspiracy is an antidote to the over-commercialization of Christmas

Why am I writing about Christmas now since it’s not even Thanksgiving? So many retailers have had Christmas items for sale as early as August or September this year. Plainly stated, it’s marketing greed in a rush to capitalize on every Christmas dollar to be spent. The time to plan for a proper Christmas is now, not later.

A small group of pastors made a positive step in addressing this issue a few years back, creating an organization called Advent Conspiracy. Their website clearly states their premise in just a few words. “Can Christmas still change the world? The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption and relationship. So, what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress and debt? Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.”

That’s the problem, and the Advent Conspiracy’s solution is elegant. Its website offers a suite of resources for churches, parents and other individuals to address the problem of the abuse of Christmas as an orgy of spending for ourselves and each other.

Advent Conspiracy is focusing this year on water, noting: “Today, 663 million of our brothers and sisters around the world lack access to safe drinking water. What if the way we celebrate Christmas this year changes this? We continue to hear story after story of churches and families participating in Advent Conspiracy each year to conspire to spend less each Christmas and give in ways that collectively fund hundreds of life-changing water projects worldwide. This year, prayerfully consider including giving to end the clean water crisis as part of your Advent giving.”

Advent Conspiracy’s website offers several short videos which help to bring its focus alive. I urge you watch them.

Christmas, the highest holiday spending time of year, promises to be so again, almost eclipsing last year’s record spending. However, there are clouds on the horizon. According to Fortune magazine, “shoppers will rally after Nov. 8. Election stress is a real thing. And it could hurt retailers as the holiday shopping season gets under way next week.

A National Retail Federation survey found that a majority of Americans will be cautious about Christmas shopping this year, with many possibly pulling back on spending, because of anxiety over the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump presidential contest. What’s more, it’s hard for retailers to get a word in edgewise these days, potentially making their marketing less effective.” Christmas shopping is a nightmare for parents, driving many into debt and despair.

One local church has successfully addressed this problem for many years with its “It’s not your birthday” program. Baxter Road Bible Church began the program some years ago. It dedicates 100 percent of the income received during each December saying, “It’s our gift to Jesus because, after all, it’s his birthday we’re celebrating.” Last year they raised around $100,000 in December. The Rev. Bob Mather, senior pastor of the church, says the money “goes to the poor, the needy, and those going through hard times.” Much of it is spent locally.

The amount of $10,000 is dedicated to a Haitian mission the church has supported for years, vetted by one of the congregation. The focus of that mission is feeding and helping the poor, clothing them, and providing health care. The mission is led by a Haitian minister. I’ve been unable to locate any other Anchorage church that is so generous at Christmas. A few might dedicate one offering in December, or take a second offering for this purpose. Mather observes, “The more generous we are, the better off we are.” The faith and generosity of this warm group of Christians always amazes me. They walk the talk, and have grown rapidly as a result.

Christmas can be a teachable moment for parents with their children. I believe it offers families an opportunity to develop an awareness of the true meaning of Christmas, rather than a narcissistic display of spending that satisfies only ourselves, and does little for mankind.Other useful resources and film links about Christmas are available on my website Church Visits.

Anchorage’s next archbishop to be installed Wednesday

In August 2015, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz submitted his resignation to Pope Francis I in accordance with papal law. After 14 months, an archbishop-designate for the Anchorage archdiocese has been selected. Bishop Paul Dennis Etienne was recently introduced to the community in a news conference. He is currently the bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

His installation will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The installation will be preceded by evening prayer at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Family Cathedral. Both ceremonies are followed by receptions. (A copy of the official invitation is available here.)

The Mass will begin with Archbishop Schwietz presiding. The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Christophe Pierre, will read a proclamation from Pope Francis designating Etienne as the new archbishop. He’ll then show it to the archdiocesan consultors for agreement. At this point Bishop Etienne is now archbishop and will be led to the cathedra (bishop’s chair) and be presented with the crozier. Bishop Etienne will then preside over the remainder of the Mass. Eight to 10 other bishops will be present, including all three Alaska bishops. It promises to be an impressive installation.

After the installation, Schwietz will have the title archbishop emeritus. He’ll continue to pastor St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River where he’s been pastor since his resignation.

“I leave with a tremendous sense of gratitude,” he told me. “The people have been so gracious, welcoming, and cooperative. They’ve been so caring for me. It’s been a wonderful experience. I lay down those responsibilities with regret but look forward to the leadership of the new archbishop.”

In anticipation of a full audience at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, the archdiocese has announced the installation Mass of Archbishop-Designate Etienne will be streamed live online at CatholicAnchor.org.

A trio of events showcases the vitality of the local Catholic community

Last week I attended two local Catholic activities that indicate a growing and moving church. While attending, I heard about a upcoming third activity of local interest. While not all local churches embrace their Catholic neighbors, due to various theological points of disagreements, it’s important we don’t forget the words of Jesus, from John 10:16: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

Alaska Catholic Youth Conference

Last week, 144 Catholic youth from around the state came to Anchorage for the 16th annual Alaska Catholic Youth Conference. The conference theme, “Boundless Mercy,” tied into Pope Francis’ 2015 declaration that this year be a Year of Holy Mercy, a jubilee year to follow the 50th anniversary the Second Vatican Council.

Each day’s theme was on an aspect of mercy: “What is mercy?,” “Living Mercy,” “Spiritual Mercy,” “Mercy is God’s Name.” Out-of-town youth stayed at Lumen Christi High School or with local friends. Youth participated in events that included workshops, social justice service projects, musical entertainment, and masses.

“The service projects were really good,” said Bonnie Bezousek, director of faith formation for the Anchorage Archdiocese.

“The youth painted bowls for Bean’s Café, wrote letters to military personnel in the family, and discovered how social media raised awareness of issues regarding Catholic social teaching and works of mercy. Junior high youth also painted decorations for St. Benedict’s VBS (vacation Bible school).”

All three in-state bishops were present and available to the youth: Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski, and Juneau Bishop Ed Burns. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was a special guest at the conference. Each bishop celebrated Mass with the youth. Pedro Rubalcava, a musician from Portland, Oregon, performed a concert at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral and provided music throughout the week.

The Tuesday evening program, called the “ACYC Tonight Show,” mimicked its broadcast namesake with spiritual trivia guessing games that included the youth and bishops, youth tweets about embarrassing Catholic moments, and a chance to question any bishop about anything. In all my years visiting churches and attending conferences I’ve not seen anything similar. This was an engaged group.

Raising money for Anchorage seminarians

Later that week I attended a fundraising dinner at St. Patrick’s Parish to create an endowment for seminarian education. The archdiocese is experiencing a renewed interest in the priesthood as evidenced by the recent ordinations of the Revs. Patrick Brosamer and Arthur Roraff, and Deacon Robert Whitney. At the dinner, five new seminarians were introduced. Previously, only one or two seminarians were studying at any given time. Now, it has become a healthy career choice.

Traditionally, the Roman Catholic Church pays for seminarian training. Due to the expanding base of local seminarians, the archdiocese felt a stronger financial foundation for this training needed to be developed. Currently seminarian education costs are funded out of the archdiocese budget. An endowment to fund future seminarian education makes great sense.

To help achieve this, Catholic Extension, (a canonical institution reporting directly to the pope), and their donors awarded a 2-to-1 matching grant of up to $50,000. Through leadership dinners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Andrew’s and St. Benedict’s parishes, private and public parish dinners, and the $79,000 raised at the St. Patrick’s Parish event, the archdiocese achieved its initial goal of $100,000 matching money.

This initial $150,000 provides the seed money for an anticipated $3 million to 5 million endowment. Catholic Extension financially supports missions in the church, because all of Alaska’s archdioceses are considered missions.

“It’s nice we have young men leading in discipleship. What we can do as disciples is to support them by giving back,” said Laurie Dinneen, the archdiocese’s stewardship and development director.

At my table, composed mostly of Holy Family Cathedral members, I was fortunate to be seated next to one of the new seminarians, Ed Burke, from Kenai, and a recent high school graduate. As we talked I gained a sense of his deep commitment to the Catholic faith and comfort in the symbols and work of the church.

The tasty dinner, fundraising activities, mingling of friends of faith, and the Rev. Leo Walsh’s humorous remarks as master of ceremonies produced a unity of support I seldom see in church events.

Holy Family Cathedral unveils stained glass window project

Just last month, the stained glass windows project “The Joyful Mysteries,” culminated with the completion of the windows’ installation. Pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, the Rev. Anthony Patalano, is joyful this project came to fruition in his third and final assignment here.

“Our ‘windows project’ has been in the works for more than two years and is the culmination, along with necessary renovations and improvements, of our centennial celebration as a parish. It couldn’t have happened without the prayers and generosity of many Holy Family parishioners,” Patalano said.

The cathedral itself was dedicated in a ceremony earlier this month, along with the new windows, sconces, and restored stations of the cross. Patalano has been retired by his Dominican order, and will be moving to Los Angeles in July where he’ll serve as Resident Chaplain to the Cloistered Dominican Nuns in LA.

Noting their themes, Patalano continued, “The Joyful Mysteries seemed especially appropriate for Holy Family as the Holy Family is represented in four of the five windows. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patron saint of missions and of the State of Alaska whose dioceses are mission dioceses.”

Holy Family invites the community to a special showing of these windows frpm 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. June 25 at the cathedral. Volunteers will provide tours and explanations of the beautiful windows, their history in Germany, and restoration. A reception will be held in the Parish Hall. A beautiful souvenir book will also be available for a slight charge.

Six inspiring things from Anchorage faith organizations in 2015

During my forays into the local faith community in 2015 I experienced an intriguing mix of sights, sounds, venues and celebrations. This week I’ll briefly describe some that made lasting impressions. Next week I focus on my perennial quest regarding what I’d like to see churches tackle in 2016.

These impressions are mine alone, and omission isn’t intended as a slight to any faith-based organization in Anchorage.

Faith community support of social causes

As the years go by, I’m increasingly enthusiastic when local faith organizations and their members go out of their way supporting charitable causes such as Thanksgiving Blessing, Crop Hunger Walk, food banks and food distribution programs, kids programs, etc. There is sufficient need in our community, and these efforts show that, for the most part, Christian organizations walk the talk. When Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church periodically holds two-hour Beer and Hymns events, more than $5,000 is raised for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. Church food drives are incredibly successful too, such as when St. Mary’s Episcopal Church collects donations of more than 4,000 jars of peanut butter plus other food items during the year.

Catholic celebrations mark years of progress

The Archdiocese of Anchorage held several important celebrations this year. One marked the 100th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral, and the 50th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Many artifacts of local church history were on display, accompanied by colorful presentations by many local Catholic leaders. The ceremonial Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe marking Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz’s 75th birthday (and 25th anniversary of his ordination as bishop) was full of music, co-celebrating archbishops and bishops, and many priests. The investiture ceremony of the Royal Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, presided over by a cardinal, was a spectacular peek into church history.

Orthodox visits impressed me deeply

The Eagle River Institute at St. John Orthodox Cathedral during August afforded opportunities to learn about orthodoxy, and its history, especially Syrian-born Rev. George Shaloub’s lectures on Middle Eastern Christianity. With the Syrian refugee crisis in the headlines at the moment, it’s too bad more local Christians did not hear his messages. Vespers, held after supper each day, provided music and liturgy harking back to apostolic times. A recent visit to St. Tikhon Orthodox Church delighted me. The hour and a half liturgy was supported by an all-male choir singing in four-part harmony. The Russian Christmas celebration at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral was filled with music and liturgy, my first experience with starring, a beautiful Orthodox tradition brought from Ukraine.

Church worship experiences in middle schools

New churches (church plants) meeting in middle schools were a pleasant visit focus. Clark, Begich, Wendler, and Hanshew middle schools were the focus of those visits. They pay a standard Anchorage School District rental rate for use of the multi-purpose room for adult meetings and classrooms for the younger kids. Churches must bring everything needed and set up every Sunday, taking it all down after, but it works beautifully. Many of these locations provide better settings than some of our local churches. In each of these services, the proportion of millennials was greater than in an average church. I’ve been personally blessed by the number of these services I’ve attended, never feeling the absence of a dedicated brick-and-mortar church as a disadvantage.

AFACT support of Medicaid expansion

Earlier this year, Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together challenged the state Legislature with words and prayer at the Legislative Information Office to expand the Medicaid system on behalf of the working poor who slip through the cracks. AFACT, a local coalition of 14 local congregations, worked tirelessly on behalf of expansion. In the end, expansion of the health-care program did happen. When I attended the AFACT celebration at St. Anthony Catholic church in early fall, I was impressed with the passion this dedicated group expressed. I was especially taken with Pastor Julia Seymour’s remarks referring to “social junk.” She’s right. It’s so easy to criticize and ignore those among us we regard as not worthy of our consideration. However, everyone counts in our society, or it begins to rot from the center.

Longevity of senior pastors in our community

My interview with All Saints Episcopal’s Rev. Norman Elliott as he reached his 96th birthday was a true delight. His tireless devotion to his church, and the spiritual lives of those in our hospitals, should be an inspiration to us all. It’s not often we get to know a living church legend; Elliott certainly fits the bill. His stories of pastoring and teaching in the villages, coupled with flights of daring in the parish airplane, are fascinating. Whenever he digresses into the poetry of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy, which he manages to slip into most sermons, he becomes a different man. Elliott is devoted to God and to his church. Retired Archbishop Francis T. Hurley celebrated his 45th year as bishop this year. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing him several times, and like Elliott, he was a flying priest who ministered to a far-flung area. Both have interesting tales of serving God by airplane. The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church celebration of Pastor Alonzo Patterson’s 45th anniversary as their pastor and 66th anniversary of being a pastor was a warm and effusive display of love for their pastor. Many guest pastors were on hand to add their congratulations and thanks to God for Patterson’s many years of service. The musical tributes were warm and from the heart. It was an exceptional event to have experienced.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Changes afoot in local Catholic diocese – 1/17/15

Last Sunday I attended St. Benedict’s Catholic Church’s services. I did so with no intention of writing about their services, but afterward decided to write a few words about my experience there. The reverence displayed by congregants was a real contrast with what I often experience in attending so many other churches services. Often, a din and buzz of conversation makes it almost impossible to adjust one’s mind for the commencement of actual worship, confession, prayer and communion to be received, regardless of faith. There was a reverential quiet as I entered their church sanctuary, which was most refreshing.

I was further impressed by the deportment of the children I observed in my immediate seating area. They were actually paying attention to everything that was going on, even to the point of following the service through the printed liturgical guide that included the key elements of the service. I see children in many churches scribbling, coloring, talking, playing, reading, lying down or acting totally bored. The children I saw were interspersed with their parents and looking on with them, in a most participative way. As a substitute teacher in Anchorage schools, I am often astounded at the levels some of the children achieve in areas such as reading, math, respect for adults and others. Upon inquiring, I almost always find one or both parents are doing what I witnessed in church — being actively involved in their child’s education. It is my understanding Catholics are currently emphasizing re-catechizing all levels of believers so there is a better understanding of the church and its mission. Cardinal Dolan emphasized this aspect last year when he visited. The importance of a role model parent cannot be underestimated. I applaud the behavior I witnessed at St. Benedict’s on Sunday.

The interplay of music, Scripture and readings was well-coordinated. In many churches there is nothing to tie the music to the sermon, or other portions of the service.

St. Benedict’s offers seating on three sides of the platform and its altar. That dimension alone lends a participative air of worship. Their choir, too, sits in the congregation and rises as required. The use of their cantor, choir and congregation on a particular song was beautiful and effective. Clearly this church does not use music as an entertainment platform but as an artful form of instruction and worship.

Although I’m not a Catholic, I appreciate the St. Benedict’s community and its love and respect for its pastors and one another. I urge believers in Christ, Catholic or not, to visit them to see, firsthand, how solid their worship service really is.

Designation of Our Lady of Guadalupe as co-cathedral

Generally, Roman Catholics have only a single cathedral in each diocese, except where practicality dictates otherwise. Seeking to better incorporate the facilities of Our Lady of Guadalupe church in the activities of the archdiocese, Archbishop Roger Schweitz petitioned the Vatican to declare them a co-cathedral to Holy Family Cathedral. The approval process took about a year and was declared publicly on Dec. 12, when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis’ highest ranking ambassador to the U.S., delivered the good news to the archdiocese with a warm homily. (You can read the full text of Vigano’s remarks in the Catholic Anchor.)

For some time, local Archbishop Schweitz had been contemplating how to address parking and other practical issues at Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage. Holy Family, hemmed in by commercial development downtown, has found it is increasingly difficult for parishioners and staff to find places to park.

“The designating of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as co-cathedral was necessitated by the growth of our Catholic population,” Schweitz said. “This is certainly good news. Also, through this growth the Catholic community is being enriched by the increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds of our people.”

Tourist activities prevalent in downtown Anchorage weighed in on Schweitz’s decision to designate Holy Family a historic cathedral.

When I asked the Rev. Anthony Patalano OP, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, about the co-cathedral designation, he was most enthusiastic. “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It needed to be done.” The Rev. Patalano also emphasized that Our Lady of Guadalupe offers better space layout for pontifical events and other ceremonies, compared to Holy Family Cathedral. The Rev. Augustine Hilander OP, parochial vicar, noted the cathedral was the scene of a papal audience by Pope John Paul II in 1981, and downstairs he conducted a similar audience for the handicapped, underscoring its historical significance.

Cathedrals are considered to be the seats of bishops where they pastor to people of their diocese. What to do for a cathedra? The cathedra, i.e. bishop’s chair, used by Pope John Paul II in his historic Mass here in 1981, is being prepared for placement at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral to signify it is also the seat of the bishop’s presence.

Archbishop Schweitz, very active around the archdiocese, is a familiar face during many of the times I’ve attended Our Lady of Guadalupe. In years past, I’ve visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City several times and have witnessed the love Catholics hold for the Virgin of Tepeyac and her connection with Mary. The imagery of Mary and local ties to the Mexican origins of Our Lady of Guadalupe were invoked several times by Archbishop Vigano, who connected their roles in evangelization and proclamation of the gospel.

2015 is a significant year for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. The centennial of the Archdiocese and 50th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral’s building will be celebrated. The Catholic Anchor has provided excellent coverage of Catholic events and activities in the archdiocese in print and online. Catholics in our community maintain vibrant, caring communities, consistently demonstrating their love for the gospel. With a long history in Anchorage, the Catholic presence will undoubtedly continue to a blessing for residents of Anchorage and Alaska long into the future.

Today is Palm Sunday 2011

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As Anchorage is so close to the International Date Line, most of the world will have already celebrated Palm Sunday by the time I post this. Palm Sunday is the day most of Christendom commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as recorded in the gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 12).

This day is the start of Holy Week, where the events of Jesus’ last days are remembered with various events and ceremonies in many churches.

Many mainline churches use palm fronds, either with the children or everyone, to symbolize the event recorded in scripture. They are variously used but I enjoy seeing children waving them to joyful songs. I did not grow up in a palm frond waving church. I can imagine it would have made a deep impression on me as a child.

I Googled “Palm Sunday Services Anchorage 2011” and found Palm Sunday service listings for the following churches on the first two results pages. (Most Google users don’t dig down past the first two pages.) You may get other results with different search terms.

First Congregational Church
Archdiocese of Anchorage
All Saints Episcopal
Chapel by the Sea
Unity of Anchorage Church
Anchorage Lutheran Church
Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox
Faith Lutheran Church

Few Palm Sunday services were mentioned on the Anchorage Daily News Matters of Faith listings in the Saturday paper.

In closing, as always, I primarily attend church during the Easter season to privately worship rather than observe and write. Many of us recognize that Easter is a time when those who do not normally attend church, do come. During this time churches hold many special events and the air, for a first time visitor, is usually completely different than at other times.

I wish all readers a happy Palm Sunday.

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