August 16, 2023
By: Maria Mater Unionis, SSVM Fairbanks
Dear Religious Family,
From the moment we arrived at the mission in Alaska, our desire was to reach the most distant villages, because they are the most forgotten due to the distance and the poor communications. In fact, each village has its own particular reality, there are villages of one hundred inhabitants and others of three thousand as in the case of Nome.
By the grace of God, from June 19-25 we carried out a popular mission in Nome, in the parish of St. Joseph. We consider it an extraordinary grace, because for centuries many “fools for the cross”, a title given to the missionaries by Father Llorente, have passed through Nome. (In the following chronicle we will see the importance that the apostolate of Father Bellarmine Lafortune had in this place). But Nome had something else in its history: not only “fools for the cross” but also fools for money, that is, merchants and miners.
In addition to Father Jaime IVE and the three sisters who are in Alaska, Sister Izamal came from the provincial house in Washington DC to help us that week. We were also accompanied by four young people and a permanent deacon from our diocese.
From Fairbanks to Nome
Fairbanks is 839 km from Nome. To get to Nome there are no roads, you can only get there by plane. But there are no flights from Fairbanks to Nome, it is necessary to travel to Anchorage and then take the plane to Nome. That is to go from north to south (576 km), and from south to north again (874 km).
They never fail
Arriving in Nome we didn’t quite know what to expect. The truth is that we were all very happy to be there and to be able to do the Holy Mission. After all, there were ten of us whom God had chosen for such a beautiful undertaking.
At the Holy Mass for the sending forth of the missionaries on Monday evening there was only one lady present, Megan, the parish secretary. The sending sermon was for us, we listened well to Father’s words about the power of Christ’s sending us to go all over the world, without exception of any place.
The old chronicles refer to the difficulty this population had in getting up early or in the morning. We soon found that this is still a prevailing truth here: the people of Nome do not get out of bed until noon, so the whole mission had to adapt to that.
In the mornings we did everything that could be done: Rosary of the Dawn, Adoration, breakfast, prepare everything necessary for the mission (the talks, the games, the mission cross, etc.), lunch and off we went! Around 12:30 p.m. we started to go out two by two through the streets to visit the houses.
From the very first day, word spread among the children that there were activities for them in the Catholic Church, and every day, even before 4:00 p.m., they would show up at the parish, ready to begin the mission of the children. They were the ones who faithfully accompanied us during the Holy Mission, every day, from the recitation of the Rosary to the games after the Holy Mass, in which everyone participated – they always begged us to play soccer for a while longer and there was no way we could deny them. They arrived daily at that time and stayed until we said goodbye to them, inviting them to come back the next day.
In addition to the children, one or two other people attended Mass daily. But it was the youngest ones who every day struggled to learn to make the sign of the cross and genuflection, to memorize the Hail Mary, the Our Father and the Gloria. The simplest truths of the faith for them were something they were hearing for the first time. Even if they already had some idea of who God is, they did not know that Jesus is God, that he died on the cross for us and then rose again. Nor did they know the Virgin Mary or St. Joseph, much less the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Without the children, the mission would have been completely different. As a monk once told me: “They never fail”. Daylon, with whom I took this photo, was the only Catholic child at the mission. His grandparents go to Mass on Sundays and Daylon usually accompanies them.
Deacon Charles and the young people Daniel, Michell, Dolores and Garren were, without a doubt, an indispensable help. They were a faithful and constant support, with them we prayed and worked every day of the mission. Without them it would not have been possible to do all that we did. They also experienced that “there is greater joy in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35). Garren told us that one of the children had asked him if, after the mission was over, he would still be able to visit Jesus in the Church.
The Jesus of Nome goes out into the streets
The days of the Mission passed, we continued to visit the houses and, even so, the adults did not come to church – not even the Catholics. In such circumstances, the day we held the Corpus Christi procession was very special for all the missionaries: if the people of Nome did not come to see Jesus, the Jesus of Nome went out into the streets to see his people.
As we were accompanied by the children, Father Jaime explained to them well the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist during the sermon at Mass, and, after leaving in procession, he told them once again that Jesus would walk with us for the Rosary that afternoon. Those children had been chosen by God Himself for that day, to accompany Jesus as He went through the streets and, somehow, perhaps mysteriously bore witness to their faith.
The people, when they heard the Hail Marys and the songs, came out of their houses and looked at us very perplexed, but they still followed us with their phones taking videos.
The day ended with Father Jaime’s show in the street with his two “friends” (see the dolls in the photo). Neither the children nor us could contain our laughter and curious people stopped and took pictures. A dad came with his daughter to see the show and, after a while, he said to one of the sisters: “My daughter doesn’t know what a nun is, could you explain it to her, please?
At the end of the day, we hear the children joyfully say to one another: “Today we participated in a parade for God”. The missionary who seeks to harvest fruits immediately and does not understand that of St. Paul: I planted, Apollo watered, but it was God who gave the growth. So neither the one who plants is something, nor the one who waters, but God who makes it grow (I Cor 3:6-7), will soon abandon the mission. Perhaps one would like the children at the end of such a day to understand in depth the mystery of Jesus hidden in the Eucharist and, piously, to follow him, but it is all that: the Fathers Segundo Llorente, Bellarmine Lafortune and so many others have planted, we are watering and God, God alone is the one who gives the growth. Happy St. Peter and St. Paul’s Day!
From the land of eternal sunshine,
Sister Maria Mater Unionis