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Dear Friend in Christ,
Imagine realizing you couldn’t go to Mass—because there’s no parish priest.
Imagine your loved one wants to go to Confession after years away from the Church—but she can’t, because there’s no parish priest.
Imagine getting cancer and needing Anointing of the Sick—except you can’t get anointed, because there’s no priest.
It’s hard to imagine going without the Mass and sacraments, isn’t it? For Catholics, they strengthen us for the journey to heaven. But as one of our diocese’s supporters, you know this is a reality for your brothers and sisters in northern Alaska, who often go weeks or months without the Mass because we have so few priests.
With your help, I believe we can change that.
As bishop of the only missionary diocese in the United States, I have just 18 priests to cover nearly 409,000 square miles—that’s one and a half times the size of Texas. Eighty percent of our 46 churches are in rural Alaskan villages so remote you need a plane, snowmachine, or boat to get there. Getting there is expensive, too—it costs our diocese around $400 to fly a priest into a village to celebrate Mass. You can fly from New York to San Francisco for less than that!
And as you’ve no doubt read in our newsletter, The Alaskan Shepherd, our priests make incredible sacrifices to serve the people of God. A full third of our clergy are between 60 and 90 years old, yet these hardy missionaries will fly to a village, then travel the Yukon River in a small boat all day to anoint the dying. They’ll spend hours on snowmachines and ATVs in frigid weather to bring Communion to the sick. They’ll stay in barely-heated churches without indoor plumbing to bring the Risen Christ to His people. It’s tough work, but our priests know the Mass and sacraments bring life-giving hope to Catholics who only see a priest every few months.
Despite the struggles, however, I’m happy to report that our diocese has taken some inspiring strides forward over the past few years thanks to your support. It might surprise you to learn that only three of our 18 priests belong to the Diocese of Fairbanks—the remaining 15 are on loan from other dioceses or religious orders from around the world. Last year, your donations helped me increase our priests by almost a third--we hired two more priests from India, another priest from Poland, and two priests from Nigeria! You also are helping our diocese educate FOUR young seminarians committed to serving in the northern Alaskan missions upon ordination. “Thank you” just isn’t adequate for all your help.
Being able to hire more priests for our diocese is crucial because my people live out their Catholic faith under some of the most difficult conditions on earth. Food and heating oil has to be flown or barged into our villages, resulting in exorbitantly high costs for basic necessities. In “the bush,” for example, milk can run $10/gallon and eggs more than $6/dozen! Heating oil costs are 60% higher here, too. Many live well below the poverty line and and most families must hunt, fish, and gather from the land to survive. These Catholics can’t afford a full-time priest—and I couldn’t give them even a part-time pastor without your help.
The remoteness of our villages also can be a hardship. Villages don’t have libraries, theaters, or malls…many don’t even have a grocery store or clinic. A few years ago, one of our young Catholic men died after waiting for more than four hours for emergency medical care to arrive in his village. Such struggles leave many of my people vulnerable to substance abuse, domestic violence, even suicide. In 2015, the village of Hooper Bay lost four of its 1,000 residents to suicide in two weeks. That’s the equivalent of 34,000 New Yorkers ending their lives in that time! The despair, especially among our youth, is epidemic and tragic.
We all need the Mass and sacraments, but the graces they provide to your northern Alaskan brothers and sisters can literally mean the difference between life or death. Imagine trying to save your marriage, conquer alcoholism, fight depression...God’s grace would be critical, wouldn’t it? I travel to our churches, too, and see how much people want spiritual help. When a priest arrives, they quickly gather sick loved ones to be anointed; they want counseling, Confession, and house blessings. They asks why a priest only comes a few times a year and it’s painful to admit we just don’t have enough priests and can barely afford travel for the ones we have.
This is why I’m asking for your help again today. A generous gift from you can help our diocese hire more priests and send them to our village churches more often than a few times a year. It also can help us educate the young seminarians who are generously stepping forward to serve the Alaskan missions in the future. We can’t do this important work without you.
Our diocese’s motto is, “Some give by going to the missions. Some go by giving to the missions. Without both, there are no missions.” My dear friend, you are truly my co-worker in the vineyard of northern Alaska. Like many of our current priests, who come here from all over the world, you have a missionary heart that yearns to bring Jesus to others. Like St. Therese, who supported the missions without leaving her cloister, you prove it’s the little things—like your prayers, encouragement, and donations—that keep God’s kingdom growing in remote corners of the world like ours.
In your kindness, will you please consider sending in a generous gift of $50, $100, $250, or more to help us continue our missionary work? And whether you can donate or not, please pray for me, our priests, and the Catholics of northern Alaska. As always, you will be in my prayers.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Chad W. Zielinski
Catholic Bishop of Fairbanks
Diocese of Fairbanks
Did you know?
Liturgy of the word with Holy Communion (LWHC) services are celebrated on Sundays when a priest is not in the village. At this time, on any given Sunday there are at least 18 of the 24 parishes in the Y-K Delta region that celebrate LWHC. In parishes where there are deacons, the deacon leads the service. In parishes that do not have deacons, lay women and men lead the services.
Parishes that have assigned priests (only 14) see a priest about every three to eight weeks (these parishes have Sunday and daily Mass while the priest is there. His visit could be a few days or up to two weeks.) Parishes that have priests coming from Fairbanks celebrate Eucharistic about once every three months. The priest coming from Fairbanks may be in a village only three to four days.
Serving the Parish Communities of:
Alakanuk - Aniak - Barrow
Bethel - Chefornak - Chevak
Delta Junction - Emmonak - Fairbanks
Galena - Healy (also Denali Park) - Holy Cross
Hooper Bay - Huslia - Kalskag
Kaltag - Kotlik - Kotzebue
Koyukuk - Little Diomede Island - Marshall
McGrath - Mountain Village - Nenana
Newtok - Nightmute - Nome
North Pole - Nulato - Nunam Iqua
Pilot Station - Ruby - Russian Mission
Saint Marys - Saint Michael - Scammon Bay
Stebbins - Tanana - Teller
Tok - Toksook Bay - Tununak - Unalakleet