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On the Way There (Article)

A Winter Mission in Alaska
Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, travels to Anchorage for two weeks of snow and service.

Alaska 1
Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, enjoying a real winter.

February 22, 2011. Anchorage, AK. As if winter in New England weren’t enough… Fr Oscar Capilla, LC, headed north to Anchorage, Alaska from February 1 - 16 at the invitation of some Regnum Christi members he had met the year before at Camp Kodiak, a yearly boys’ camp held in Alaska.

Since there are only a handful of Regnum Christi members in Alaska, he also put himself at the service of the local diocese by preaching retreats and spiritual exercises, and offering the sacraments and spiritual direction.

Fr Oscar started out by meeting with the archbishop of Anchorage, Archbishop Roger Schwietz, and the local clergy. He was given a warm welcome, especially since Anchorage has a shortage of priests—Florida is a much more popular assignment at this time of year.

After meeting with the Regnum Christi members in the city, he preached open spiritual exercises for women over one weekend and for
Alaska 3
Fr Oscar preaches a retreat to high school students at Holy Rosary Academy.
men the next. He preached a parish mission at St. Patrick’s Church in Anchorage, a retreat to high school students at Holy Rosary Academy, and a full-day retreat to a contemplative order of nuns, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. There are only three nuns in this particular convent, and all of them happen to be Mexican, so Fr Oscar was able to give the retreat in Spanish. The small number of nuns was due not to the order, but the location. Once again, Anchorage is not a popular place to be stationed.

“It was a very pastoral experience,” he said, referring to the entire two-week period, “and it was an opportunity to provide something for the parish. All of the activities I did were advertised on the diocesan web site and on church bulletins. The retreats were open to everyone, and I tried to make it an opportunity to serve the diocese.”

He went on to observe that Alaska’s two dioceses, Anchorage and Fairbanks, are actually considered mission dioceses. And that fresh, missionary spirit is evident in the people.

“You can see it in the people,” he said. “Even though only 8% of Alaskans are Catholic, there is a sense of Christian community. There is a great attitude of enthusiasm and missionary
Alaska camp
Camping in tents at 16 below, miles from civilization.
spirit. I would see more people at weekday Mass than in Connecticut.”

The trip also had another surprise in store for Fr Oscar: a 3-day camping trip near Denali National Park, near Mount McKinley. The men had decided that Fr Oscar needed to get a taste of Alaska at its wildest and best, so they set out on snowmobiles, making a 170-mile round trip to a remote cabin. Along the way, they also stayed in tents, braving -16° weather.

“For me, it was something new; it was exciting. It’s one of those experiences you’ve never had before. You feel miserable, but you like the challenge,” he said.

While on their trip, the men decided that next year, when Fr Oscar returns, they can get a group of at least ten men together to have a retreat at that remote cabin, totally disconnected from the world. It will be a retreat worthy of John the Baptist, albeit with a different kind of austerity.

Looking back on his past trip and ahead to the next one, Fr Oscar observed, “The Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir once said: To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”

“And the Holy Spirit sure is good at doing great things in the wilderness!”



Related links web site
Mission Network
Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center and the Center for Family Development
Changing Hearts
Cancun-Chetumal Prelature
Helping Hands Medical Missions

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