The continent with only one priest

There may be others, but I haven’t heard of them — and if there’s a permanent parish or even a diocese, I imagine the weekly collection is small and the most loyal members of the flock are penguins.  I’m speaking, of course, of Antarctica.

While most of us are turning our attention this weekend to the North Pole, Msgr. Steve Rossetti is looking in the other direction.   A priest for the Diocese of Syracuse and a teacher at Catholic University, he’s been serving for a few weeks as a chaplain at a base at the South Pole  — and it looks like he may be there for Christmas.  He shared some insight on his experience with CNN:

Antarctica puts you in your place. We are not in control here. Planning is difficult, and people are constantly adjusting. But on a larger scale, it reminds me that in general we have little control over much of our lives. Antarctica can remind you of that. Try as we might, we have little control over most of the events that impact so heavily upon our lives. This seeming arbitrariness can be frightening.

Some believe that their lives and very existence are a matter of random chance or simply the result of cosmic and biological processes. Behind such processes, they do not see any hand guiding it all. Much of the astounding science that occurs on Antarctica is immersed with understanding the origins and health of our planet. But it cannot answer fundamental human questions, “Why am I here?” “Is there a plan for my life?”

On this icy, frozen continent, we are humbled. It reminds us of our frail humanity. When I entered the South Pole station and I took off my thick goose-down parka, my clerical collar and lettering on my shirt saying “chaplain” were clearly visible. I walked down the corridor of the South Pole station, and there were more than a few faces that smiled and welcomed me. They said they’re glad I’m here.

This morning, as the flights out were canceled again, I walked into the manager’s office. We looked at the weather and she said, “Looks like you might be here for Christmas.” She told me that they have never before had a chaplain here on Christmas Day. She said, “We would be fortunate and grateful.” This morning, several people smiled broadly when they heard I might be at the pole with them for Christmas.

One could see this storm as a random event and my being weathered in at the South Pole simply as an act of nature. But it may be that, for the first time, a chaplain will be here on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. I cannot plan it; I can only accept whatever comes. Each day, we will look out and see what has been planned for us.

Isn’t this the case for each of our lives?

There’s much more.  Read it all. He’s also been sharing his reflections in this Antarctica Notebook.

Merry Christmas, Msgr. Rossetti, wherever you spend it…!


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