By JOEL DAVIDSON, CatholicAnchor.org

Parishioners from Alaska’s three dioceses have generously stepped forward, already donating nearly $90,000 in less than a month to help send roughly 50 pilgrims to the upcoming World Youth Day gathering of approximately 300,000 Catholic young people along with Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau in Rio with WYD pilgrims from Southeast Alaska.
Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau in Rio with WYD pilgrims from Southeast Alaska.

The Alaskan pilgrims nearly cancelled their long-awaited July trip after ITC Tours, the company handling travel arrangements for the Alaskans, unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy in early June. The surprise announcement caused the Alaskans to lose about $181,400 in travel costs which they had already paid to the tour company. Much of the lost money had been raised by the young people through various fundraisers throughout the year.

The bankruptcy also caused several other dioceses to cancel their WYD travel pilgrimages.

After considering various options, the three bishops of Alaska decided to underwrite the trip through funds from the Alaska Catholic Conference of Bishops (ACCB), a joint partnership between Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Juneau Bishop Edwards Burns and Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler. The ACCB coordinates Catholic outreach and education efforts across the three dioceses in Alaska.

This decision to pick up the tab for the Alaskan pilgrims has depleted all reserve funds from the ACCB and prompted the bishops to send out a request to Alaska parishioners to help restore the funds. As of July 18, nearly $90,000 had been received.

The Office of Stewardship & Development, which is coordinating the bishops’ appeal in the Anchorage Archdiocese, issued an email July 18 to update parish leaders on the fundraising effort.

“The response has been overwhelming!” the statement read. “To date, nearly $90,000 has been given in response to this fund. In fact, the Archbishop and the Alaskan youth are on their way to Rio…This weekend, they will be enjoying the full benefit of this gathering – and it is happening because of the outpouring on generosity from our parishes!”

“The Archbishop wants everyone to know how grateful he is, and that you are in his prayers!” the statement concluded.”

The pilgrims are now in Rio de Janeiro with Archbishop Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler and Juneau Bishop Edward Burns. World Youth Day runs from July 23-30 but many pilgrims, including the Alaskans, arrived a week early to visit holy sites and prepare for the main events.