A picture of Senator Lisa Murkowski
Lisa M.
Republican AK

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    by Senator Lisa Murkowski

    Posted on 2015-01-22

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    MURKOWSKI. In November, Father Chad Zielinski, the deputy wing chaplain at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, received what he regarded as an odd early morning telephone call. The call came from the Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States. The Nuncio informed Father Zielinski that he had been selected by Pope Francis to serve as the Catholic bishop of Fairbanks.

    His immediate reaction: This makes no sense; how can this be? There must be some mistake. But there was no mistake. In December, Bishop Zielinski was ordained and installed to lead the Diocese of Fairbanks. The Catholic Anchor newspaper reports that Bishop Zielinski is the first active duty military chaplain in recent history to shepherd a diocese. At age 50 he is also the 11th youngest of the 267 active U.S. Catholic bishops.

    The selection was met with great enthusiasm throughout interior Alaska and especially in our military community. Before being called to the priesthood, Bishop Zielinski served on active duty in the Air Force. He was ordained a priest for the Catholic Diocese of Gaylord, MI, in 1996. But after the events of September 11 he saw a need for Catholic chaplains in the military and rejoined the Air Force.

    His Air Force career was varied. Bishop Zielinski served as Roman Catholic cadet chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and as a chaplain recruiter assigned to the Air Force Recruiting Service. He also served at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota and at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.

    And he served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan--his first in Baghdad in 2003 and his last in Afghanistan where he served 18 forward combat positions, where religious services were punctuated by the sound of live gun fire. On one sad day, the convoy in which he was traveling was hit by a rocket, killing one of the drivers, who also happened to be a parishioner. That day ended with the bishop conducting a funeral. Needless to say, Bishop Zielinski was regarded as an exemplary chaplain and I have no doubt that he will be an exemplary bishop.

    The Diocese of Fairbanks, the most northern and geographically diverse in the United States, covers some 410,000 square miles. It holds 46 parishes, most of which are in the Alaska Native villages. I am excited about Bishop Zielinski's elevation and I look forward to working closely with him in his new and important role as a leader in our faith community. ____________________

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