In an effort to solidify relationships that have provided the Anchorage Archdiocese with much needed priests and religious, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz visited South Korea earlier this spring.
His travels took him to the Diocese of Cheongju, which has sent priests and religious sisters to serve the Anchorage Korean Catholic Community for many years. He also visited Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, where the Korean Missionary Society is based. The society is a relatively new fraternity of priests hoping to evangelize worldwide. In 2012 the society sent three priests to the Anchorage Archdiocese, although two were forced to return due to health problems. The third, Father Andrew Lee, serves as the pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Lake in Big Lake.
The society is not a religious order yet, Archbishop Schwietz said, but it is working towards recognition as such under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of Seoul, and is gaining vocations along the way.
Established in 1975, members of the society have already served in China, Cambodia, the Philippines, Mexico and several other countries. Alaska is the society’s first U.S. mission and the goal is to send priests to evangelize long-term in countries which are underserved by clergy. In Alaska, this may mean ministering in rural areas.
Archbishop Schwietz, who is temporarily serving as the administrator of the Fairbanks Diocese until a new bishop is appointed there, said the Bush areas of that diocese might be a good fit for members of the Korean Missionary Society.
Archbishop Schwietz said his Korea trip had a twofold purpose.
“I wanted to thank those who have helped the archdiocese during my tenure as archbishop,” he said, “and lay the groundwork for continuity in the future.”
Although Archbishop Schwietz has previously visited the Diocese of Cheongju, this was his first trip to Seoul, and he was impressed by the church there.
“The spirit of the Catholics there is wonderful,” he said. “The church is full of life. They can bring us great gifts. But they have suffered.”
Archbishop Schwietz noted that Pope Francis will visit Seoul in August to beatify 124 Korean martyrs who gave their lives for their faith under Korea’s persecution in the 1800s.
Korean priests in Anchorage are not new. South Korea has sent priests to serve the Korean Community of Anchorage for decades since the largely Korean speaking community formed at St. Anthony Church under Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Francis Hurley. For many years, those priests have come from the Diocese of Cheongju.
Since the Anchorage Korean community started its own parish, St. Andrew Kim on Lake Otis Parkway, the South Korean diocese has continued to send a new priest every three to four years, and several Korean religious sisters.
The Korean Missionary Society, however, is not sending priests to minister primarily to Korean speaking Catholics. Rather, they are sent to serve wherever they are most needed.
Although Archbishop Schwietz looks forward to more Korean priests serving in Alaska, as well as priests from the Diocese of Cotabato in the Philippines, he’s also very positive about the outlook for homegrown Alaskan priests.
“We’re beginning to get a decent seminary response,” he said, adding that there will be five men studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Anchorage this fall. This includes former Anchorage businessman Arthur Roraff who, in June, will be ordained a transitional deacon — the last formal step before being ordained a priest in 2015. Additionally, the archdiocese benefits from the work of several Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Dominican priests, as well as several religious sisters.
Archbishop Schwietz said he thinks of this time of using foreign priests as an “interim period” as Alaska-born men increasingly enter the seminary.
He noted, however, that the Diocese of Fairbanks does not have any men in formation.