Catholics in the Fairbanks Diocese were urged to accept, love and pray for their newly ordained bishop who “has pledged to give his life to you.”
This was part of the homily given by Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz before he ordained Bishop Chad Zielinski as the sixth bishop of Fairbanks.
Eight Archbishops and bishops participated in the Dec. 15 ordination Mass at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. More than one thousand people were on hand including priests, deacons and lay Catholics from all across Alaska.
After calling the faithful to embrace and follow their new spiritual shepherd, Archbishop Schwietz turned his attention to Bishop Zielinski, who became the seventh youngest bishop in the United States.
“My dear brother, never mind about claiming you are too young as Jeremiah did. God has chosen you, and you have said yes, and for this we thank you,” he said. “I pledge my prayers for you that, as Saint Paul says to the Ephesians, you might live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another through love.”
Of the people Bishop Zielinski will lead, they are “humble and gentle, with a genuine hunger for their faith,” Archbishop Schwietz told him.
“You have wonderful and dedicated deacons and religious as collaborators in the work of the ministry,” he added. “They are anxious to get to know you and to share their experience and wisdom with you. In them you will find a dedication which is truly inspiring.”
Following Archbishop Schwietz’s homily the ancient ordination ritual continued. It required the participation of at least three bishops, a principal consecrating bishop and two co-consecrating bishops. Archbishop of the Military Services of the United States Archbishop Timothy Broglio, served as co-consecrator, as did Bishop Steven Raica, head of the Diocese of Gaylord, Mich.
Until Pope Francis asked him to serve as bishop of Fairbanks, Bishop Zielinski was an Air Force Chaplain and Major serving at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. His home diocese is Gaylord, Mich. Also in attendance was Juneau Bishop Edward Burns and Bishop Donald Kettler, the former bishop of Fairbanks who a year ago was tapped by the pope to lead the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Additionally, among the many friends and family attending the Mass was Pope Francis’ highest-ranking ambassador to the United States, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. The nuncio is the chief point of contact for United States’ Catholic Church in its communications with Rome and he coordinates the search for new bishops. Once the nuncio’s office sifts through the candidates, it forwards the leading three candidates to the Vatican. The pope then makes the final selection.
The pope’s choice for the Diocese of Fairbanks took many by surprise. It is the first time an active military chaplain has been tapped to lead a diocese. Bishop Zielinski served as a chaplain for over 12 years and saw three tours of duty in war zones. He will remain serving his country as a reservist for two more years. However, those obligations will not interfere with his running of the diocese.
Geographically, the Fairbanks Diocese is the largest in the United States, encompassing more than 400,000 square miles. It is also unique in that it is the only diocese in the country that reports to the Vatican’s missionary wing, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The designation reflects the challenges serving the U.S.’s northern most diocese where parishes are separated by hundreds of miles of tundra and many still practice a subsistence lifestyle.