Archdiocesan group visits Alaska mission diocese

| July 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

 

Duane These of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis delegation to Alaska serves food at a soup kitchen in Fairbanks during the trip June 15-22. Eight people from the archdiocese traveled to the Diocese of Fairbanks to experience life in the last mission diocese in the U.S. Courtesy/Eric Simon

Eight people from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis visited the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, June 15-June 22 to learn about in one of the most remote parts of the U.S.

“We really wanted them to engage and understand what a mission diocese is,” said Eric Simon, mission promotions manager with the Center for Mission in the archdiocese. The center organized the trip.

Fairbanks has 15 priests serving 46 parishes in a vast geographic area of 409,800 square miles, four times larger than Minnesota. Only eight of the parishes can support themselves financially.

“The others just depend on volunteer donations,” said Dianne Lascotte, who traveled with the archdiocese delegation.

Lascotte, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, said she became interested in going to Alaska after years of donating to a Catholic radio station in Nome, Alaska, on the southwest coast of the diocese. She found it moving to see Catholic life in the diocese firsthand where laity in small, remote communities sustain their parishes. Some parishes have up to a three-month wait to see a priest. The clergy often need to fly or take a boat to remote communities due to the mountainous terrain.

“The group is so small that community looms large,” Lascotte said.

The archdiocese delegation visited Galena, a village of 470 people, mostly from the Athabascan tribe, nestled along the Yukon River. People can only reach the town, 270 miles west of Fairbanks, by boat or plane.

“It was a lot of trying to integrate with people,” Simon said.

They stayed at St. John Berchman parish in the village and spent time with parishioners and visited a senior residence. Lascotte said the people live simply and with as little as possible. Many fish for salmon in the summer months to stock up for the winter.

“I look at the beauty of the people and what very little they had,” Lascotte said. “To them it was [enough].”

Some Athabascan have ventured into Fairbanks looking for work. The delegates met some homeless Athabascans in Fairbanks at a soup kitchen at which they volunteered. Both Simon and Lascotte said that poverty affects the Athabascans as does prejudice.

“For me, it was really special to be able to see the Athabascan people coming in,” Lascotte said.

The delegates served food to the Athabascans and other visitors to the soup kitchen in addition to visiting with them. Simon said it was an opportunity for “seeing Christ in the face of everybody.”

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