By Dominique Johnson
The North Star Catholic
Since 2017, when he arrived in Anchorage, Father Shijo Kanjirathamkunnel, C.M has overseen the Hispanic ministry outreach in Alaska, serving the former Archdiocese of Anchorage, the former Diocese of Juneau and the Diocese of Fairbanks.
The vision for the outreach ministry was to serve the growing Hispanic Catholic population in the state. As part of the ministry, Father Shijo and Father Humberto Aristizabal, C.M. travel to parishes in Fairbanks, Kodiak, Wasilla, Juneau and Ketchikan monthly to celebrate Mass, teach faith formation and hear confessions in Spanish. Both Vincentian priests are stationed at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage to serve the large Hispanic population of parishioners.
Father Shijo and Father Humberto coordinate with the pastors of each parish they visit that participate in the Hispanic ministry. Father Shijo said that some of the parishes offer Spanish Mass weekly, but it is having faith formation and the sacrament of reconciliation in their own language that parishioners look forward to. “That was the primary need they emphasized,” he said.
Gloria Orozco, Hispanic ministry leader at St. Paul the Apostle in Juneau, echoed that sentiment. “It’s hard to have confession in English because sometimes the words don’t come out,” and when it’s something “deep in your heart, you want to have the right words to say,” she shared. Other parishioners who are not as fluent in English will not go to confession, she added.
Father Shijo said that he communicates with the Hispanic leaders in the different communities, sending them supplemental information. He added that since they could not travel to the various communities during the pandemic, he and Father Humberto offered faith formation talks every Tuesday and on Wednesday prayed the Divine Office over Zoom with the parishes.
Orozco shared how the Hispanic parishioners at her parish have been blessed by the Hispanic ministry outreach in the archdiocese because, “When I pray, I pray in my own language,” so having a priest that speaks and understands Spanish helps her and others practice their faith.