Diocese of Fairbanks
Pastoral Support for Native Missions
With most villages having lifted pandemic travel restrictions, priests serving rural Alaska were finally able to travel freely between their assigned parishes again. In the interior region, Fr. Thinh Van Tran spent approximately two weeks per month in his home parish of Nulato, then traveled to other villages the other two weeks to provide the Mass and sacraments. Father Thinh served three villages in the region but would travel to a fourth for pastoral emergencies.
Father Jim Falsey, a retired priest from Michigan who now lives in Anchorage, is now serving villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, so is only able to visit the interior region about once a month. The village of Tanana only sees a priest for the Mass and sacraments once every four months.
Many village churches across northern Alaska have seen dramatically reduced numbers of parishioners engaged in the faith since the onset of the pandemic. In the village of Chevak, for example, the diocese’s assigned priest, Fr. Gregg Wood, now celebrates Sunday Mass for a group of about 20 people. In previous years, more than 50 villagers had regularly attended services.
Native Ministry Training Program
The program’s first indigenous leaders, Dom and Lala Hunt, were hired in summer 2020 but pandemic travel restrictions have prevented them from traveling to rural churches in western Alaska until the last quarter of 2022. In October, the program held its first Scripture retreat to help prepare deacons and parish administrators who lead Communion services to deliver meaningful reflections on 2023 Gospel readings.
Yukon-Kuskokwim Region Adult Faith Formation Coordinator
Program director Patrick Tam spent the last quarter of 2022 contacting parishes and assessing their need for sacramental preparation retreats since many parishes suspended sacramental preparation during the pandemic. Approximately 75% of parishes reported needing help reestablishing their programs to prepare parents for infant baptism, prepare children for First Reconciliation and First Communion, and prepare older children and adults for Confirmation. In the past, sacramental preparation was handled onsite by parish volunteers, but a significant number of parishes have lost their catechists and now have no one trained to lead these ministries. Tam is working with parents to coordinate home-based sacramental preparation, which will be reinforced later on during a parish retreat just prior to receiving the sacrament. Tam was able to meet with the diocese's other members of the Intercultural Dialogue Group in September, which has not been able to meet since fall 2019 due to pandemic restrictions. The group, which includes ministry leaders, priests, and indigenous representatives, discusses how best to enculturate Yup'ik traditions and values into programming.