FAIRBANKS - Three Alaska Catholic bishops walked the aisles of Sacred Heart Cathedral waving spruce branches dipped in waters from Alaska rivers and sprinkling the gathering of 150 congregants in a blessing rite.
The ritual was a prelude to a Wednesday afternoon Alaska Federation of Natives Convention liturgy and Mass of Healing and Reconciliation.
Fairbanks Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Kettler was joined by Archbishop Roger Schwietz of Anchorage and Bishop Edward Burns of Juneau in celebrating the Mass.
The Interior Star Tekakwitha Circle of Fairbanks provided prayers and readings in both the Yupik and Koyukon Athabascan languages.
The special service was a continuation of Kettler's mission to fulfill one of the non-monetary provisions of the diocese's bankruptcy settlement with more than 300 victims of sexual abuse. The majority of the abuse survivors reside in Interior and coastal communities.
Since the $9.8 million settlement in January, the bishop has visited 14 of 26 communities in the diocese, traveling by airplane to the remote communities where sexual abuse occurred.
In his homily, the bishop talked about the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation (penance) acknowledging wrong, asking forgiveness and most importantly, changing behavior.
Kettler described the institution of the Church as "made up of broken human beings."
"In this diocese, we as a Church failed badly our young brothers and sisters. Some of our priests, ministers, staff and volunteers harmed children, sexually abused them. I must acknowledge and admit these grave, evil and sinful acts," Kettler said.
"I stand here before you, and know the other bishops and priests here in this sanctuary do as well, to acknowledge to you that we are contrite and full of sorrow."
Kettler went on to express "profound sadness and repentance" on behalf of the diocese and Church. He also apologized to anyone who was emotionally, spiritually or physically harmed when their Native culture was dismissed or suppressed by members of the Church.
"Today," he continued, "we recognize the wonderful spirituality and wisdom of our Native cultures. Many of our liturgies, including today's, are richer because of your cultural contributions to our Church's celebrations and activities."
Kettler said the process of doing penance and conducting healing services and listening sessions, is a way of putting words into action.