CHICAGO (CNS) – Father Stan Jaszek, a Polish missionary priest who serves Alaskan natives in the Diocese of Fairbanks, has been named the recipient of the 2021-2022 Lumen Christi Award from Catholic Extension.
The Lumen Christi Prize, created in 1978, is the highest honor bestowed by Catholic Extension and rewards people “who radiate and reveal the light of Christ present in the communities where they serve”.
“Father Stan intuitively understands that the church can be a force for positive transformation having grown up in communist Poland and witnessing the impact of (Saint) John Paul II and the solidarity movement,” said Father Jack Wall , president of Catholic Extension.
“This conviction is what led him as a missionary priest from Poland to Peru at the beginning of his priesthood, then later from post-apartheid Africa to Alaska, in the diocese of Fairbanks where he faithfully served. nearly two decades, “the priest said in a statement. September 28 statement.
Father Jaszek currently serves Native Alaskan villages in the remote Yukon Delta-Kuskokwim region along the Bering Sea coast. Of his 19 years of missionary work in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Father Jaszek spent 14 of them living among the Yup’ik people.
He is one of a handful of priests ministering in the Diocese of Fairbanks, which is geographically the largest diocese in the United States.
Catholic Extension and its donors have supported the Catholic presence in Alaska for 115 years by helping fund essential ministries in remote Alaskan villages, including the ministry of Father Jaszek.
A Chicago-based papal society founded in 1905, Catholic Extension raises funds to help build faith communities and build churches in American missionary dioceses, which are rural, cover a wide geographic area, and have staff and offices. limited pastoral resources.
Father Jaszek grew up in Poland under the communist regime. As a teenager, he felt a call to serve in the missions. Unfamiliar with religious missionary organizations, he turned to his local diocesan seminary, the Metropolitan Major Seminary of Lublin, in 1983. The seminary is part of the Catholic University of the Archdiocese of Lublin.
He was ordained a diocesan priest on December 10, 1988.
As Father Wall mentioned in his statement, the Solidarity movement in Poland was strengthened during the training of the future priest. Polish citizens, rooted in their faith and desire for independence, worked to demolish the Communist government.
Saint John Paul, newly elected pontiff, returned to his Polish homeland in 1979 and his revolutionary visit gave a strong impetus to the movement.
“The church was the only force capable of contradicting the lies spread by communism about the dignity of workers, about the value of work, about the freedom of the people, about the right to choose its leaders,” said Father Jaszek. “The church was actually the place where people could feel free. “
During his nearly two decades in Alaska, Father Jaszek devoted himself to developing relationships based on trust and respect by imbibing Yup’ik traditions.
The Yup’ik survive primarily on a subsistence lifestyle – fishing, hunting and gathering food, according to Catholic Extension.
Father Jaszek learned the ways of the Yup’ik, to better understand their reality and communicate the Gospel more effectively. He learned to hunt, fish, pick berries, and plan ahead and prepare in an area where weather events are unpredictable.
“Jesus in his ministry told stories that were very familiar to the people he spoke to. These were stories that they lived every day, ”said Father Jaszek, adding that by experiencing“ the way of life of people, ”his own stories can become part of“ the daily experiences of people ”that he. serves.
In his press release announcing that the priest was the winner of Lumen Christ, Catholic Extension said that “with open arms he invites people to deepen their relationship with God while affirming the spirituality and culture of his flock.”
“The spiritual care shown by Father Jaszek was desperately needed when the pandemic hit the region. In this region, being a victim of the virus is particularly dangerous because of the lack of easily accessible hospitals, ”the statement said.
“The pandemic has also disrupted the fishing season, the main source of income for the population,” he added.
Over the past year, Father Jaszek “has spent countless hours counseling people over the phone and mourning bereaved families unable to bury their dead while the ground was frozen,” Catholic Extension said. “His deep love and concern for those he serves has made him a valued member of the community. “
The Lumen Christi Prize is accompanied by a grant of $ 50,000 for Father Jaszek and his ministry.
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