FOCUS mission group opens their heart to SE Alaska residents

By Craig Johring

During the days of July 7-22, 2016 a group of 14 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries traveled to Southeast Alaska to visit the communities of Juneau, Hoonah, and Excursion Inlet. (I arranged the logistics and hosted the group.)

We began the mission activities with an evening at the home of Bishop Edward Burns in Juneau. The next 9 days of the mission were spent in Juneau, reaching out to the homeless in the downtown area. The week ended with the FOCUS group taking a group of homeless individuals to visit the Shrine of St. Therese and to spend the day together. In addition, during the week the FOCUS group also held Kids’ (Bible) Clubs each day in two neighborhoods in Juneau. Each was attended by 10-20 children.IMG_1693 smaller

On Sunday the 17th of August the mission group took a boat to Excursion Inlet with Bishop Burns and Deacon Steve Olmstead of Juneau; there they celebrated Mass with seasonal cannery workers and Bishop Burns baptized two children.IMG_0858

The following week was spent in the village of Hoonah. The group was joined by Father Matthew Gutowski from the Diocese of Omaha. The FOCUS mission team spent the week stepping into the lives of people in Hoonah by holding a Kids Club each day, and gathering around a bonfire together in the evenings.IMG_0857

The highlight of our trip was the opportunity for FOCUS students and staff to step into the lives of the homeless: to listen, care, learn, and to see the face of Christ. Each person on the mission was impacted through this listening, and through seeing Christ in the face of the poor.

Elyse Dishman, one of the leaders of the Mission, shares her story:

 As a FOCUS missionary, I’ve always wanted to have zeal for souls. 

Coming to Alaska on mission had me extremely excited, but I was also nervous about interacting with the homeless. I had put up barriers between myself and the homeless all my life because I was scared of them, in all honesty.

I remember one of our first mission days in Juneau, we were preparing to go out and walk streets to meet the homeless, and I was getting antsy. Thankfully we went to the Glory Hole first to break the ice, and did God break the ice!

I walked in and looked around and a woman smiled at me, so I quickly walked over to her and sat down and introduced myself. She introduced herself and before I knew it she had pulled out her bible and was reading one of the epistles from the New Testament; she started singing a song about Jesus, and she gave me a scarf with a Raven on it that represents her tribe. 

All I could do was sit in stunned silence and watch as Jesus flooded from her eyes, hands, and mouth. I saw Jesus that day, and I continually saw him in the days after with other homeless men and women and even in the other missionaries with me. I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking for Him, especially now that I’ve found Him in His beloved creation.

 Praise God for this woman! Thank you for opening my heart to hold this zeal for souls! God bless!

Elyse Dishman – FOCUS Missionary, The University of Tulsa




From Juneau to Krakow: World Youth Day

By Bishop Edward J. Burns

After months of planning and preparation for a pilgrimage of a lifetime, thirty members of the Diocese of Juneau made their way to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. Those who made the trip came from the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Juneau, and Holy Name Parish in Ketchikan. The 31st World Youth Day was held in Krakow, Poland, from July 26-31, 2016 and was based on the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).


This world meeting of young people began with three days of prayer and reflection. The first full day, Wednesday, July 27, focused on the topic “Now is the time of mercy!” Thursday’s topic was “Let us allow ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy” and Friday, July 29, had the participants reflect on the topic, “Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy.” It was an honor for me to be one of the bishop catechists for this event and I found Krakow to be a wonderful venue to develop the theme of mercy since it is the home of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina. These two saints have shared their wisdom about God’s Divine Mercy. Allow me to highlight two quotes which helped in my preparations for the event.


Diocese of Juneau youth participate in WYD Krakow events with Pope Francis. 

In 2002, St. John Paul II said, “How greatly today’s world needs God’s mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up. Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about peace. Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth.” This message, spoken by the Saint who walked the streets of Krakow and hiked the surrounding mountains, offers much to ponder. These words are most poignant and were well received during my catechetical sessions attended by pilgrims from Kuwait and Egypt, who themselves are experiencing widespread injustices.

At the same time, the words and images of St. Faustina were everywhere in Krakow during this WYD event. In her Diary she wrote, “Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and come to their rescue. Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings. Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all. Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds. Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor.” These words, too, are worth pondering and I believe that the youth who took all the messages of mercy to heart during World Youth Day have opened themselves to being instruments of mercy toward others.


Bishop Edward Burns stands with students from Saint John Paul the Great High School from the Diocese of Arlington. These students, along with 119 Alaskan pilgrims, were among several million worldwide who attended World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland in late July. 

Equipped with quotes like these and all my preparations for the catechetical sessions, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the theme of God’s mercy with our young people and being present to them. It was a joy to interact with the youth who came to Krakow from all over the world. With our own group from Southeast Alaska, it was a joy being on the bus with them, praying the rosary and answering their questions about the faith and the Church.

The World Youth Day event culminated with the closing Mass on Sunday, July 31, 2016, presided by Pope Francis, the Successor of St. Peter. 2.5 million people gathered for this Mass. I rejoiced in knowing that the young people of Southeast Alaska experienced this illustration of the Catholic Church and her universality. It is my hope and prayer that those who attended will be able to witness to God’s divine mercy, and that the great gift of World Youth Day will be fruitful here in Southeast Alaska through the lives of the young people who participated.

Holy Name Garden project brings landscaping face-lift

By Olivia Escueta

Since opening its doors at its current address in 1985, the interior of Holy Name Church in Ketchikan has undergone countless repairs, remodels, and additions. But for the invasive weeds and brushes of nature, the grounds of Holy Name were relatively untouched. Then one day, a group of parishioners took it upon themselves to turn over 500 feet of dirt into memorial gardens. Thus, the Garden Project was born.

IMG_0678Long-time parishioners, Grace Hasibar, Barbara Guenther, and Martha Jacobsen, along with a team of volunteers that made up the Garden Committee began with the 50 feet of gravel that sloped behind the church. After carefully sketching out a design, choosing plants, and obtaining estimates for the costs of materials, they brought it to the congregation.

“The good news is the plants and materials are completely paid for,” Martha Jacobsen said, addressing the congregation at the Masses; “the bad news is, the money is in your pockets.” Parishioners had the option of either donating to the cost of materials, or donating in memory of a loved one. A few weeks later, the funds were raised and the Saint Therese of Lisieux Memorial Garden was completed.IMG_2389-2

The next phase of the project was the 300 feet of land largely made up of weeds, salmon berry bushes and small trees at the front of Holy Name — a mammoth undertaking to be sure.

Thankfully, the committee was armed with overwhelming support from all sides. First, a local construction company donated their backhoe to uproot a majority of the weeds; then, a community that donated funds, tools, materials and laborers, many of whom were youth; and finally, an amazing group of 35 missionaries from Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Austin, Texas.

Like the Saint Therese garden, every plant was chosen carefully, and planted according to size and color. Beautiful granite boulders framed the garden and lined the creek-like    drainage ditch, which was filled by drain rock. Work began Sunday afternoon, and by Tuesday the Saint Francis of Assisi memorial garden was completed.

Thanks to the generous spirit of the Ketchikan Community, as well as the missionaries from St. Vincent de Paul, Holy Name will have a beautiful set of gardens that’ll grow not only in memory of loved ones, but as a reminder of what can bloom with the seeds of faith.


Let us together pass through the gates of God’s abundant Mercy

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

“[Muslims] await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”
– Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Vatican II Nostra Aetate 1965

Although one would never know it from the news reports that are dominated by reports of terrorist violence carried out by radical Islamists, ordinary Sunni and Shia Muslims hold Isa (Jesus) and his mother Maryiam (Mary) in very high regard and in their own way venerate them.

Of course, from the very beginning of Islam in the 7th century, Muslims and Christians have held very different beliefs about fundamental doctrinal issues such as the Trinity, the Fall and original sin, divine revelation, the divinity of Jesus, his salvific death on the Cross and his life-giving resurrection from the dead. Muslim Mary

Quranic teaching rejects the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and does not acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, instead, venerating him as a great prophet, second only to Muhammed in holiness and piety.  In contrast to the gospel accounts, Jesus is believed by most Muslims not to have died on the cross. Instead, they believe a substitute was crucified (various candidates are proposed by different interpretive traditions – Simon of Cyrene most commonly) and died in his stead, while Jesus was taken up into heaven. It is Jesus, Muslims believe, who will return at the end of time, as God’s representative to usher in the Last Judgement.

As for Mary, surprisingly, she is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament. An entire sura (chapter) of the Quran is named after her. She is regarded as one of the greatest and most virtuous women who ever lived and as an exemplar for Muslims of piety and holiness. Muslims also believe that she was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Jesus by the will of Allah. The Quran contains an account of Mary’s birth, of the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus, but it is a narrative with elements that are derived largely from the apocraphal gospels.

Just as surprisingly, the Catholic Church, while acknowledging our different understandings of God, faith and salvation, hold Islam and Muslim believers in high regard as well. Unfortunately, the violent attacks of fundamentalist Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS can blind us to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,” (Phil4:8) in the Muslim world. Islam, with over 1 billion Muslim believers, is one of the great religious, spiritual, cultural and artistic civilizations in our world.

This is not in any way to deny or minimize the very real religious persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. Or, the genocidal violence of ISIS against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria and the massacres of Shia and those Sunni Muslims who oppose them and are regarded as apostates by that group.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, a ruthless and violent religious ideology, rooted in a literalist and apocalyptic interpretation of Islam has taken hold throughout the Muslim world. Adherents of this ideology, although limited in numbers but recruited from the majority Sunni sect of Islam, have initiated a savage war of terror against Christians, Shia Muslims and civil society around the world.

Increasingly horrific acts of violence by ISIS and allied groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria against its enemies (defined according to an ISIS spokesman as “infidels, Shia and apostate Muslims”) are part of their overall strategy to create fear, suspicion and civil disorder. Their open and oft-proclaimed goal is to provoke the state and citizens in our own country, in Europe, and in the Middle East to treat all Sunni Muslims as potential or actual terrorists in the expectation that, alienated and angry, Sunnis will themselves be radicalized and support groups such as ISIS.

Thus, as with all of the other atrocious acts by ISIS and allied groups, the sickening murder of the martyred Pere Jacques was intended to provoke ordinary Christians to hate and fear Muslims and to make ordinary Muslims hate and fear us. A truly diabolical strategy, for it is always the devil’s work to turn us against each other.

Yet, what we witnessed in the aftermath of Pere Jacques’ martyrdom was not fear, division and hatred but the opposite: courage, unity and brotherly love. I was deeply moved by the solidarity that Muslims in France showed us as Catholics (and by extension the entire Christian community) by attending Mass the Sunday after Pere Jacques’ death.  The presence of Muslim leaders and faithful at his funeral in Rouen and at memorial Masses in Paris and throughout France was remarkable. It would have been understandable for them to have stayed away. Instead, courageously and at the risk of their lives, these Muslim friends stood with the us, disciples of Jesus within the great French cathedrals dedicated to his mother, Mary.

Entering these cathedrals, Christians and Muslims together passed through the gates of mercy, the mercy of God which is our hope and our consolation in these days and months that have seen so much violence and terror.

May we, through the prayers of Pere Jacques and all those holy men and women martyred for Christ, receive the grace and the strength to witness daily to the mercy, compassion, peace and love of the Lord Jesus.

Through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, Queen of Peace, may Christians and Muslims refuse to be enemies, so as to live together in mutual understanding, respect and peace.

– Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 x 23.   Email: 


Diocese teens begin WYD pilgrimage

The pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland has begun! Diocese of Juneau Youth Ministry leader Heather Shaw shared the following posts and photos via Facebook in the last few days of the Alaska pilgrims’ stop in Ireland, enroute to Poland. World Youth Day in Krakow with Pope Francis begins on July 25th and runs through July 31st.

July 18 – “After 15 hours of traveling, our 23 pilgrims from the Diocese of Juneau finally made it to Ireland! We visited the Rock of Cashel and the Cahir Castle today while taking in the beautiful scenery. St. Patrick and St. Brigid, pray for us!”

July 19 – “Today we had a busy day of experiencing the culture of Ireland! We went to the Cliffs of Moher, visited St. Brigit’s well and shrine, saw a relic of St. Thérèse in Galway Cathedral, and ended the day with Trad on the Prom – a musical event showcasing traditional Irish music and river dancing!”

July 20 – “Today our pilgrims got to attend mass with the nine Benedictine nuns of Kylemore Abbey and it was so beautiful! We also got to explore the Connemara countryside. Ireland just keeps getting better and better! Thank you for your prayers, we are praying for our community and family back home everyday!”

July 21 – “Our second to last day in Ireland was filled with so many graces. We hiked Croagh Patrick, a holy mountain that pilgrims have hiked as penitential sacrifice for centuries and the same one that St. Patrick climber barefoot. Then we had mass at Knock Shrine where the people of Knock witnessed an apparition of Mary. Our Lady of Knock, pray for us!”

July 23 – “We were joined today (in Krakow) by our remaining pilgrims from the Diocese of Juneau, and we’ve loved growing closer with our brothers and sisters from around the state! Especially during the 8 hour bus ride from Berlin to Kraków! We made it to the dormitories in Poland and ended the night with mass outside on the tennis courts with 119 pilgrims. Praise God!”





119 Alaska WYD pilgrims gather together for Mass with Bishop Edward Burns on their first evening in Krakow.


Diocese of Juneau teens arrive in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day.



U.S. Bishops, including Bishop Edward Burns at right, arrive in Krakow for World Youth Day.

See related article:

Alaska to send 119 pilgrims to World Youth Day in Poland

Photos at our Flickr page

FOCUS builds community in Yakutat

IMG_2049 cropped

In May, the dream of having a playground in Yakutat became a reality thanks in part to 18 Catholic college student missionaries. The two-week mission was set up and hosted by Craig Johring with Hope of the Poor. Johring does mission work each summer within the Diocese of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. The mission was sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).13327602_1117863614901547_6278215885539046176_n

The City of Yakutat worked with the Rasmuson Foundation to design and fund the playground. The playground was custom designed using images from native Yakutat elders, and includes state of the art safety with AstroTurf underneath.

The Catholic missionaries worked alongside a team of AmeriCorps volunteers and city employees during the eight days of construction. The kids in Yakutat counted down the days until the playground was finished.

The lives of the college students were impacted through serving and stepping into the lives of people in Yakutat. In addition to building the playground the students held a Kids’ Bible Club each day at St. Ann’s Catholic Church. After the playground was finished they served the elderly in the community.

The 18 college students experienced the joy of pouring their lives into people and seeing Christ in the lives of people they served. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus taught, “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did it to me.”


Student  spotlight 

During the past 2 years Craig Johring has brought 65 college students involved in the  Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to Southeast Alaska to serve on mission projects. The lives of these college students have been deeply impacted through the opportunity to serve the youth and the elderly in Southeast Alaska. Rachel Sirois from the University of Maine who took part in the Yakutat Mission in May, shares the following:

“Upon returning home from my May FOCUS mission trip to Yakutat, Alaska, people have asked me: ‘How was it?’ In response, all I have been able to muster up is: ‘There are no words. I would go back in a heartbeat and I want everyone to experience Alaska in the way that I did.’ There are truly no words to adequately describe the genuine love and blessings I received from this mission trip. God worked and continues to work in incredible ways in the lives of all those we encountered in Yakutat. The community is incredibly generous and you can clearly see that they desire to do God’s will and grow in faith each and every day. I recognize that the intention of the trip was to serve and love the Yakutat community, which we did, though they truly served and loved us as Christ loves as well. I can certainly say that I have left a piece of my heart in Yakutat and I cannot wait to go back someday. God is so good!”      – Rachel Sirois

Learn more about FOCUS missions at

FOCUS group

IMG_0976 (2).jpgIMG_2708