Anchorage, Alaska, Jan 5, 2009 (CNA) - Nearly 230 years ago, three Roman Catholic priests sailed from Mexico to Alaska where they would celebrate the first Catholic Mass in the state and bring the Body and Blood of Christ to the Last Frontier.
According to the Catholic Anchor, by the year 1779, the race to explore and claim rights to the far north had already reached Alaska. During the previous year, the English Captain Cook had sailed into the inlet that now bears his name, and the Russians were already trading furs with Native Alaskans.
The Spanish were sailing with a two-fold mission: to claim territory for their Catholic king and to spread the faith.
According to Father Richard Tero, a church historian and pastor at Sacred Heart Church in the city of Seward, taking possession of new land involved erecting a cross at each site and, if a priest was present, celebrating Mass.
In 1774, Spain’s first expedition to Alaska fell short – landing in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands.
The next year, part of a Spanish contingent arrived in what is now Sitka and Bucareli Bay (named after the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico Don Antonio María Bucarelí). But the ship carrying priests was forced to turn back with a crew suffering from scurvy. Those who landed in Alaska claimed territory for Spain and erected crosses. But without a priest, there was no Mass.
Only the crosses remain
Franciscan Father Junípero Serra, the beatified former head of the Californian missions, was undaunted by the challenges of evangelizing Alaska. Desiring to bring the Gospel to Natives in the north, he had been assigning chaplains to travel with the Spanish missions.
After the disappointment of the1775 trip, he wrote to Bucarelí. “There the crosses remain but … there are lacking those who can explain their meaning to those poor natives,” he said.
In 1779, Bucarelí sent another crew north, as he described, to “contain the plans of the Russians to establish themselves” in Alaska. Three chaplains accompanied them: Father Juan Antonió Garcia Riobó and Father Matiás de Santa Catalina Noriega, Franciscans from Mexico, and Father Cristóbal Antonio Díaz, a secular priest from Peru.
Sailing in Divine Providence
The explorers headed north with 15 months of supplies and an indefatigable faith. Two months in, a tremendous storm arose and the ships lost sight of each other. On one ship, the Princesa, Father Riobó recounted in his journal how the crew and priests begged help from heaven.
“I went with the commandant to the quarterdeck, and in the name of all the crew on the frigate he made a vow to Our Lady of the Rosary, patroness of the frigate,” Father Riobó wrote. “He promised the foresail as an offering at her shrine and likewise that he would carry, barefooted, the mast in procession to the church at San Blas, if the Blessed Virgin would obtain our delivery from this and other dangers which we might encounter and should we return safely to harbor.”
“As if a reward of this promise,” Father Riobó explained, “Our Lady favored us with her powerful protection.” The winds turned favorable. And despite the “annoying” rain and cold, Father Riobó later remarked, “it would be difficult to find another example of a voyage of discovery fraught with so many dangers and so happily ended.”
All of the explorers – but two – eventually, safely returned home.
On May 3, the Princesa sailed into Bucareli Harbor. The second ship, the Favorita, had arrived ten hours earlier – after two weeks of separation.
On the Spanish feast honoring the Holy Cross, the explorers found a small port on the east side of the bay and named it “Santa Cruz.”
There again, said Father Riobó, “we experienced the effects of Divine Providence which guided us.” At night, they dropped anchor. The next morning, they discovered an enormous rock jutting out, exposed in the low tide. They had been saved from shipwreck, wrote Father Riobó.
The Spanish disembarked on Suemez Island, where Father Riobó said they greeted the Natives, who appeared with “signs and tokens of peace, some throwing white feathers in the air from a promontory on the sea.” Father Riobó added, “We gave gifts to each of them and they in turn gave us fish.”
“With all reverence”
Then on May 13, 1779 (the feast of the Ascension), the first Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated on Alaska soil.
In his journal, Lieutenant Don Ignacio Arteaga, commander of the expedition and captain of the Princesa, described the scene of the first Mass.
On “the 13th I descended to land with my Second in Command, and the Captain of the Favorita, with all the officers of both ships, carrying in the launch with all reverence the (statue of the) Virgin of the Rosary, and having disembarked on the beach … the Sovereign Lady was placed upon an altar which I ordered to be set up under a large tent.”
Mass was sung by the three chaplains. Just outside the tent, stood a cross made from two “pine” trees.
About 60 natives – men, women and children – attended the Mass, wrote Arteaga. They seemed to show “great devotion,” but he concluded it was merely wonderment over the “ornaments, things never seen among them, as also at the ceremonies of the priests, and the silence which we all kept.”
After Mass, the captains and officers carried the cross to a mountain where it could be seen from the bay.
Having ordered several gun salutes from the ships, Arteaga explained that “the Virgin was saluted from on board as well as on shore.”
The Spanish stayed in Bucareli Bay for 58 days. From the bay, they conducted a small reconnaissance mission. Also, they administered medical care to the natives, helped them in their crafts and farming and baptized several children. On July 1, the Spanish left the area for further exploration, but “not without much regret, of the Indians who had come to settle there in order to be near us,” wrote Father Riobó.
A heritage of faith
Ultimately, the Spanish failed to establish a permanent Catholic settlement in Alaska, and instead founded missions further south across the West Coast of the United States, primarily in California.
It would be another hundred years before the bishop of Vancouver would open the first Roman Catholic parish in Alaska at St. Rose of Lima Church in Wrangell.
But Alaska’s Catholic roots had begun to grow a century before.
In an interview with the Anchor, Father Tero lauded the Spanish explorers for first bringing Catholic faith and devotion to the far north. “The Spanish always had a love for the Blessed Mother,” he said. Their explorers were always saying the Rosary and singing the Salve Regina, he noted.
While the Spanish exploration to Alaska included an official mission to claim lands for Spain, Father Tero was quick to add that there also was a higher motivation at work.
“They were out to win souls, not earn bucks,” he said. “They were there to bring Christ to the Native peoples and to help them.”
“They knew how fragile life was,” he added, “and that Jesus gave life meaning and that his Mother would help” in their trials.
Father Tero urged Catholic Alaskans today to mirror their spiritual forbearers. In good weather and in the midst of storms, he said, let “Jesus and his Mother be the center of their lives.”
Printed with permission by the Catholic Anchor, newspaper from the diocese of Anchorage, Alaska.
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2009 (CNA) - Over the weekend Pope Benedict XVI made a number of appointments for North America, including selecting Bishop Allen Vigneron from the Diocese of Oakland to fill the important Archdiocese of Detroit.
The news for the beleaguered Motor City was announced on Monday morning in Washington by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Vigneron, 60, is a native of Michigan and is quite familiar with the inner-workings of the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he previously served as an auxiliary bishop.
Cardinal Maida submitted his resignation upon turning 75 in March of 2005 but was asked by Pope Benedict to stay on until a suitable replacement could be found. Bishop Vigneron will succeed Cardinal Adam Maida as the archbishop of Detroit on January 28 at 2:00 p.m. in an installation ceremony at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.
With the selection of Bishop Vigneron to lead the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Pope Benedict has completed one of two major appointments in the U.S. The other major archdiocese waiting for a replacement is the Archdiocese of New York, whose Cardinal Egan reached retirement age almost two years ago.
Pope Benedict XVI also made several other episcopal appointments this past weekend, ranging from California and Kentucky in the United States to Edmundston in Canada.
Bishop Claude Champagne, who was previously an auxiliary bishop of Halifax, Canada, will now serve as the Bishop of Edmundston. He succeeds Bishop Francois Thibodeau as head of the Edmundston diocese.
The Holy Father also appointed Fr. Cirilo Flores as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange. The 60 year-old priest was previously the pastor of St. Anne’s parish in Santa Ana, California.
Amidst the numerous appointments, Pope Benedict also accepted the resignation of Bishop John J. McRaith as bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky for health reasons.
Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2009 (CNA) - A national survey commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reports that about half of U.S. adults support significant restrictions on abortion, while a supermajority supports restrictions forbidden under current constitutional law.
The survey of 2,341 U.S. adults was conducted on-line December 10-12 and fielded by Harris Interactive, a USCCB press release reports.
Only 11 percent of the poll respondents thought abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. However, 38 percent would limit legalized abortion to circumstances involving rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life.
About 33 percent would limit abortion to either the first three or first six months of pregnancy, while only 9 percent oppose all restrictions on abortion.
Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for Policy & Communications at the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, called the findings “remarkable.”
“Fewer than one in ten Americans support legal abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy,” she said. “But that is precisely the current state of abortion law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason.”
The survey also asked respondents about other restrictions on abortion. About 95 percent favored laws requiring that abortions be performed only by licensed physicians, while 88 percent favored informed consent laws. Around 76 percent favored conscience protection laws for pro-life doctors and nurses, while 73 percent approved of parental involvement laws in cases where a minor is seeking to procure an abortion.
Laws against partial birth abortion were favored by 68 percent of respondents, while 63 percent favored laws preventing the use of taxpayer funds for abortions.
“Support for these measures cuts across 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' positions,” McQuade said, arguing “This research indicates how out of touch pro-abortion groups are with mainstream America.”
“These same widely-supported, constitutionally valid measures, some of which have been proven effective in reducing abortion rates, are now seriously threatened by abortion advocates and their allies in Congress," McQuade continued. "On behalf of children and their mothers, we will have to fight to keep such laws in place.”
McQuade warned about abortion proponents’ proposals which include passing the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and repealing the Hyde Amendment and other provisions forbidding taxpayer funding of abortions.
"Most people agree we should work to reduce abortions, but you can't reduce abortions by promoting abortion and eliminating all the policies that have proven effective in reducing abortions," McQuade said. "The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will oppose all such threats to human life in whatever manner they are proposed."
, Jan 5, 2009 (CNA) - Celebrations are being held to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Servant of God Fr. Patrick Peyton, CSC, the “Rosary priest” who popularized the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together.”
Father Peyton was born in County Mayo, Ireland on January 9, 1909. Later, upon becoming a priest, he devoted 51 years of ministry to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary and to families. He conducted 40 Rosary rallies worldwide, drawing 28 million people, and produced more than 600 radio and television programs which featured hundreds of Hollywood stars.
Holy Cross Family Ministries, based in Easton, Massachusetts, has launched a year-long celebration of Father Peyton’s life based on the theme “Honor his memory. Continue his mission.”
The group encourages families to pray the family Rosary in their homes during a Novena from January 1 to January 9.
Holy Cross Family Ministries’ offices in more than 17 countries are observing the Novena and are conducting many public activities during 2009, including Holy Hours, Rosary rallies, Masses and gala celebrations. A statue of the priest will be erected in Ireland, while a Telethon in the Philippines will allow people to phone in their personal commitments to say the family Rosary.
In the United States, the Father Peyton Center in Easton, Massachusetts will hold an hour of prayer in its chapel at 9 a.m. on the ninth of every month during 2009. An outdoor Rosary prayer rally will be held on June 6 in the adjacent Stonehill College stadium.
The organization Family Rosary in Albany, New York will celebrate a Mass on January 9 at Christ the King Church. It will also hold a public Rosary in June at the grotto at the Vincentian Institute where Father Peyton was first assigned as a priest and where he began Family Rosary in 1942.
In Hollywood, Family Theater Productions will mark Father Moreau/Father Peyton Day on January 11, joining Father Peyton’s commemoration with the feast of Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Family Theater Productions has offered biographical programs on Father Peyton and some programs created by the priest himself to Catholic television outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Several outlets, including Catholic TV in Boston; Catholic Television Network in Detroit; and Instructional Television in New York have committed to broadcast the programs in 2009.
Most of Holy Cross Family Ministries’ international offices will conduct the “Try Prayer! It Works!” contest for K-12 students, who may submit artwork poetry, and essays reflecting the theme “The family that prays together, stays together.”
"Father Peyton's most sacred insight, the goal toward which his whole fascinating life was directed, was to encourage families to come together daily to pray the Rosary. He saw so many benefits to this simple practice," Holy Cross Father John Phalen, CSC, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, said in a press release. "Let 2009 be a year of strengthening the family through the family Rosary!"
Father Phalen has invited families to pray the novena of Rosaries for “world peace and any particular petitions dear to the hearts of your family members” and to pray for Father Peyton’s beatification at the end of their Rosary.
The beatification prayer reads:
“Dear Jesus, Father Peyton devoted his priestly life to strengthening the families of the world by calling them to pray together every day, especially the Rosary. His message is as important for us now as it was during his life on earth.
“We beg you, therefore, to hasten the day of his beatification so that your faithful people everywhere will remember his message that the family that prays together stays together, will imitate him in his devotion to your Mother and ours, and will be inspired by his holy life to draw ever closer to you with childlike confidence and love. Amen."