The Catholic Hispanic population is one of Alaska’s fastest growing segments, and the recent arrival of two new priests has boosted outreach to this diverse group within the Anchorage Archdiocese.
Father Andrew Bellisario and Father Pedro Delgado, members of the Congregation of the Mission, popularly known as Vincentians, are currently serving in Anchorage parishes with an eye to eventually serving pockets of Hispanic Catholics throughout the archdiocese.
Father Bellisario is superior of the Anchorage community, which includes Deacon Arnold Hernandez, a permanent deacon, and another priest expected to arrive from Columbia after the first of the year.
“This assignment is an international mission given us by our superior general in Rome,” Father Bellisario told the Catholic Anchor. The international aspect means priests can be called from various countries to help serve in Alaska.
Although the focus of their mission is Hispanic ministry, Father Bellisario said they are happy to serve the needs of the archdiocese as determined by Archbishop Roger Schwietz.
Father Bellisario currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Anthony Church where Father Vincent Blanco was recently named parish pastor. Father Delgado is serving the same role at Our Lady of Guadalupe, where Father Steven Moore is pastor.
“We are very grateful to Archbishop Schwietz and the people of the archdiocese for their warm welcome,” Father Bellisario said.
Father Bellisario, who was born in Southern California, has been a priest for 31 years. He served as provincial of what is now called the Western Province from 2002-2010. His most recent assignment was in California. Like all newcomers to Alaska, he is eagerly anticipating his first winter in the state.
“I’m still working on my Spanish,” he said, and Father Delgado, a native of Columbia who is a canon lawyer, is developing his English skills. Father Delgado’s most recent assignment was in Brazil.
A large number of the Anchorage Latino population attends Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Bellisario said, and Father Delgado is a welcome addition to ministry there.
The Vincentians are a large order with a long history of commitment to serving the poor. Founded in 1625 in France by St. Vincent de Paul, they have 4,000 men serving in 86 countries worldwide. Their sister community, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, have had a presence in Anchorage since 1999.
Deacon Arnold Hernandez was sent last year by the Vincentians to lay the groundwork for their growing presence and to assess the needs of the Hispanic population. He has the unusual vocation of serving as a permanent deacon to a religious community — the only one serving the Vincentians in the United States. Originally ordained a deacon in 1981 for the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, Deacon Hernandez took vows with the Vincentian order in 1999. A Spanish speaker, he has a heart for prison ministry and is currently visiting the Palmer Correctional Facility.
“I tell the prisoners, ‘I’m here to accompany you on your journey of faith. I’m coming here as a brother,’” Deacon Hernandez said.
Meanwhile, he helps his team evaluate the spiritual opportunities for Hispanic Alaskans.
“Whether it’s Dutch Harbor, Kodiak or Valdez, the needs are there,” Deacon Hernandez said.
The U.S Census estimates the Hispanic population of Alaska in 2014 at around 6.8 percent, or approaching 50,000. Traditionally, a large number of this group is Catholic or has a Catholic background.