Saturday, I along with our Stewardship & Development Director, Mrs. Laurie Evans-Dineen, headed south of Anchorage into the Kenai Peninsula. I have been anxiously awaiting this opportunity to get out of Anchorage and see more of the state of Alaska, but even more importantly to visit our parishes and parishioners!
The drive was absolutely gorgeous. To get to Homer (southern most point) one must drive along the water known as the Turagain Arm of Cook Inlet, (named so by the famous Captain Cook who sailed into this water only to discover that it had no outlet, so, he had to ‘turn again’ and reverse course). There is a lot of snow on the ground this winter, but the roads were in pretty good shape.
To get south, one goes pretty much East while getting around the Turnagain Arm, only then to head back West. This journey takes you into the Chugach Mountains, which are rather steep. This time of year, it is easy to see where there have been recent avalanches, and the present risk of avalanche was considerable. Somewhere past Girdwood, the journey bends back to the West, through Hope. From there we keep heading south to Cooper Landing which lies at the confluence of the Kenai Lake and Kenai River. This is one of the classic Alaskan summer destinations due to the blue ribbon salmon fishing and wilderness hiking and viewing. Winter sports are also quite popular, and many of the pull-outs from the highway were full of parked cars and trailers as people headed out to snow machine and ski.
From Cooper Landing we make our way west over the mountain pass to Soldotna and from there south to Homer. All-in-all, the trip took about five hours of driving. We stopped to visit the pastor in Soldotna and then made our way into Homer in time for the 5:00 Saturday evening Vigil Mass.
It is hard to describe the vastness of this country, and likewise its raw beauty. One of the last communities before arriving in Homer is Anchor Point, which represents the Western most point of the North American Highway System. Across the water Mount Redoubt is visible. It is a mountain range as well as an active volcano.
Homer is the southern most point of the Kenai Peninsula and sits on Kachemak Bay. It is a sizable fishing community. The parish church, St. John The Baptist has a rather large window in the back wall of the sanctuary behind the altar which over looks this body of water. I can only imagine the homilist regularly faces trying to keep the congregation’s attention during the homily!
Following Mass, the parishioners provided a nice reception complete with many homemade foods, mostly desserts! I truly enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate Mass with them and had a grand time visiting them and listening to their stories.
In the morning, I had breakfast with Fr. Tom Rush, OMI, one of the local priests that serves the parish. I joined the community for the 10:00 Mass and then made the drive back north to be in Ninilchick for a 12:30 Mass at St. Peter with another reception. Once again, the people were excited with the visit. Following Mass they provided a pitch in meal and another opportunity to visit with the people of this mission. One of the ladies who was present told me that her grandparents donated the property for the church, which was built around 1963. As we arrived in Ninilchik, the snow began falling once again.
Mercifully, we made it back to Anchorage with no problems. Even though the sight seeing was quite limited due to the weather system, it was still a beautiful drive! One thing became quite apparent to me as I got my first up close view of this ‘great land’ and listened to many of the stories over the weekend, I’m going to need a wilderness training class or two. As much time as I have spent in the outdoors, Alaska has many unique challenges, and threats to survival. I think some further, formal survival training may be required.
Thanks to the good people in Homer and Ninilchik for a great visit this weekend! I really appreciate the warm hospitality, and I look forward to taking each of you up on the offers to go fishing! To all the rest of the folks around the Archdiocese, know that I will be making it to you soon. I’m also very grateful to Laurie Evans-Dineen for her work in setting up these visits, as well as her taking a weekend away from family to make the journey with me.
Church is ultimately about people, and this pastor truly desires to be with you. Keep those invitations coming!