The Catholic University of America

Msgr. Rossetti at South Pole

Missives from the Ice

For the second time in four years, Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, clinical associate professor of pastoral studies and associate dean for seminary and ministerial programs, was in Antarctica for the month of December, serving as the Catholic chaplain to the American and New Zealand communities working there on behalf of the National Science Foundation. Monsignor Rossetti shares his reflections on visiting the coldest continent on Earth in these “missives from the Ice” that touch on faith, geography, and the meaning of life.

Antarctica Notebook

Having faith in the divine plan

  Monsignor Rossetti
  Monsignor Rossetti stops in New Zealand on his way home.

Jan. 5, 2012

Dear friends,

My trip to the Ice is finished. After four days, the weather finally broke and the C-17 was able to land and bring us back to New Zealand. I was happy to see the plane and I am looking forward to snuggling up in my own warm bed, the sun going down at night, and breathing air with humidity. Whew! But I also have mixed feelings about leaving Antarctica. I will miss the stark beauty of the ice continent and the new friends I made.

My main feelings are ones of gratitude. There are so many people who make significant moments in our lives possible. CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies was generous in allowing me to go. The Diocese of Syracuse continues to be very supportive. The National Science Foundation was more than welcoming. And I am grateful to you, all my friends, for living this experience with me. I constantly felt your presence as I journeyed through the continent.

Antarctica  
Stark beauty of the ice continent, Antarctica  

I am grateful for the enthusiasm which many communicated to me about my Antarctic journey. One couple told their young child that I was at the South Pole for Christmas. The child’s question was, “Does Santa go to the South Pole?” I can respond that, although I personally did not see Santa, I met many of his helpers and the spirit of Christmas was alive and well at the other end of the earth.

One of the most moving moments on the Ice was, indeed, Christmas at the Pole. After celebrating Christmas Mass, a small group gathered in the communications room. As is the custom, all the American sites around the continent (over 20) tuned their radios into a common frequency and then site after site sang Christmas carols so all could hear. It was a touching moment as we heard from these isolated souls far from home singing their beloved hymns. We were especially blessed by the presence of several Norwegians who courageously skied into the Pole and were camped nearby. They joined us and sang three traditional Norwegian Christmas carols to the great delight of all.

Finally, I am grateful to God. When we turn our lives over to God, we never know where the Divine plan will take us, even to the ends of the earth. I was asked by the program director if I would consider returning to the Ice sometime in the future. I said it was unlikely as it is so difficult to take such an extended period away. But that is what I said four years ago after my first trip ... who knows what the future holds?

When God finally calls all of us home, we will likely have mixed feelings as well. We will be sad to leave behind the beauty of this earth and our many friends and loved ones. But we will know that the time has come to return to our true and final home.

May God bless each of you in the coming new year.

Blessings,
Monsignor Steve
 

Take time to ask the important spiritual questions

  Chapel of the Snows
  The Chapel of the Snows at McMurdo Station

Dec. 28, 2011

Dear friends,

Well, my time on the Ice is just about up. I am scheduled to leave McMurdo Station, Antarctica, tonight and fly on an Air Force C-17 back to Christchurch, New Zealand. I am still working on being flexible … the last two nights, the planes didn't make it out due to intense fog over the airfield. During my last trip to the Ice, it took me three days to get out.

During this trip, I have passed along to you scenic photos of Antarctica. However, most of my time was not spent climbing rocks or traversing glaciers, but talking to the people here and ministering to them.  For one month, I have been the Catholic chaplain and concerned for the personal and spiritual welfare of some 1,600 people. A few of them came to our little chapel regularly, and I said Mass, heard confessions, led prayer and discussion groups, and even baptized a man on Christmas day. (One of the accompanying photos shows the beautiful view from our stained glass window; the other shows the chapel itself).

 
The view from one of the chapel windows  

However, most people did not darken the door of the chapel so I went out to see them. I made daily pastoral visits to their work sites and spoke with many. I was especially interested in their spiritual perspectives. Since most did not go to church, I wanted to know, "Why? What were they thinking about faith and religion?" I found out that typically it was not ill will per se, but rather that spiritual and religious questions rarely crossed their minds at all.

When I asked them what they believed, most had vague notions about "some sort of God" or a kind of cosmic "force" but it was not of much concern to them. When I asked what they expected to happen to them after death, some spoke of a general notion of heaven and hell whereas others spoke of returning to a kind of cosmic energy. Few would be considered Christians and the vast majority had clearly done little, if any, thinking about some of the more fundamental human questions: Why am I here? How should I live my life? What will happen to me after I die? Is there a God?

So my job, at least in part, was not only to try to be a loving presence, but also to raise basic spiritual questions. Many of them were very good at science, but had neglected a major portion of their human nature – the spiritual dimension. I corrected the often distorted notion that science and faith are in competition but, as several saints have said, "Any truth, no matter by whom it is spoken, is from the Holy Spirit." They can, and should be, both people of science and people of faith.

I spoke to a young woman who was a good church goer and had recently "wintered-over" at the South Pole.  She spent February through September in minus 60-to-100-degree weather and complete winter darkness at the Pole. She said, quoting an Antarctic explorer, "This experience makes good men better and bad men worse." I, too, have noticed that some people react to their time on the Ice with grace and insight. For example, one man told me that he felt the closest to God in Antarctica and longs to repeat the experience. Sadly, there are others who respond with drinking heavily and other negative responses. 

Isn't this true of life in general? Each of us goes through tragic and/or challenging moments. Some get stronger; others do not. In the tragic wake of 9/11, for some it was a spiritual strengthening in which they relied more heavily on God and their faith. Others questioned why God could allow such a thing to happen and became bitter. 

One need not go to Antarctica to face the challenges of human existence, although such challenges are raised in high relief here. My hope and prayer is that each person who comes to the Ice will step off the plane back in the States a better and more spiritual person. My hope and prayer is that each of you will ask the important spiritual questions in life and hear in your hearts the response of a loving, attentive God.

My bags are packed and as I look out the window, the fog is dense, it is particularly cold and windy today, and things look iffy for a ride back to Christchurch tonight. I hope I have become a bit more flexible, and indeed, a better person because of 30 days on the Ice. 

Blessings,
Monsignor Steve
 

God is in charge even when life seems out of control

  Msgr. Rossette at South Pole
  Monsignor Rossetti arrives at the South Pole.

Dec. 24, 2011

Dear friends,

I am sitting here at the South Pole wondering where I am going to be spending Christmas. Yes, I finally made it to the South Pole on an LC-130 with skis flown by the National Guard — a terrific group of airmen (and women) from Schenectady, N.Y. The accompanying photo shows me just getting off the plane at the South Pole with the LC-130 in the background. It was a beautiful day (relatively speaking).

But then the weather rapidly deteriorated. Flight after flight cancelled and the last one, Dec. 23, is on maintenance delay. So, I wait ...

But flexibility and learning to accept whatever comes is a challenge for me, and I suspect for many of you. We like to be in control. Not being in control of our lives can be challenging. Here in Antarctica, we are definitely not in charge and it is readily apparent. It is a daily challenge to be flexible and we are continually adjusting our plans.

I have been often surprised during my visit here. Last week, I was hoping to meet the Norwegian prime minister when he came to Antarctica to celebrate the centennial of Amundsen and his party making it to the South Pole. But the prime minister's schedule was impossible — literally flying in and out in the middle of the night (the whole Norwegian team told me they are sleep deprived). But, as Providence would have it, I looked out my chapel window at McMurdo last week and there he was. We had a nice chat ... this was a "good" surprise.

But, as we all sadly know, there are many tragic "surprises" in life as well. Our head Catholic chaplain for the Ice resides in Christchurch, New Zealand. He just sent me an e-mail. Last night, Christchurch was rocked with another serious earthquake, 5.8. They have had a series of earthquakes which have destroyed much of the downtown area including the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, not to mention the sad loss of many lives. Tragedies strike each of our lives and remind us once again of how little control we have.

South Pole  

At the South Pole, we can feel small and "not in control" in the midst of a barren and brutal environment. The humidity is close to zero here (hence the skin on our fingers easily cracks ... ouch!) The average mid-summer (December) temperature is minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit and when the wind blows, which is often, it feels a lot colder. In the winter, temperatures occasionally reach minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was out today bundled up in all my gear and chemical hand warmers going and I lasted an hour. And today is considered a very warm summer day.

The South Pole is classified as a desert since precipitation here is so low. It rarely snows, only a few inches a year. But whatever does fall from the sky never melts. Hence we have 9,000 feet of ice below us accumulating. (One of the humorous South Pole T-shirts says: "Ski the South Pole: two inches of powder on top of two miles of base.) On several locations in Antarctica, ice core drillers drill down and take out deep samples of the ice which can tell us much about the atmosphere on earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The high, cold, humidity-free environment with its clean air is great for the radio telescopes, which is why we have several world-class millimeter-wave (not optical) telescopes located here. Among other projects, we are learning more about the beginnings of our universe. I had a nice chat with one of the scientists who is researching, through these telescopes, what happened a micro-second after the Big Bang.
Today, the weather remains iffy. You might be wondering why we have whiteouts here, if it rarely snows. Well the wind here is fierce and it picks up the snow. Add ice crystals and low lying fog and clouds, throw in 20-40 knots of wind and you have a whiteout. Thus, my stay at the Pole continues. Here at 90 degrees south latitude, one must learn to accept what comes.

Some modern minds believe there is no loving hand behind all that happens to us. But Christmas reminds us that there is Someone who is in charge. Before time began, God knew each of us and willed us into being (whether through evolution or creationism). Our task is to respond to God's loving plan as Mary did when asked if she would accept her mission, "I am the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word."

Being marooned at the South Pole is actually a wonderful grace (as long as you have a heated building). There is a terrific community here at the Pole and several of them told me that they are hoping I can stay. One hugged me, another clapped when she heard I might be spending Christmas here, and several said they are praying for a real Christmas Mass. One of the station managers said they have never had a chaplain on Christmas day itself and it would be a gift.

So, I try to remain open to whatever God has in mind. But I feel the pull of the community here and I see the whiteouts and broken LC-130s as perhaps a sign of what God has planned. And it is completely out of my control. However, I trust that God is in charge and that brings me peace.

I hope each and every one of you has a joy-filled Christmas. I am sure this will be a Christmas I will never forget. I hope it is a joy-filled "surprise" for you as well.


Blessings,
Monsignor Steve

P.S. As I am writing this missive, the word quickly passes through the small community here, no more flights out of the Pole until after Christmas. It will, indeed, be Christmas at the South Pole for me. Who could have predicted such a grace?

 

South Pole heroes remind us of greatness of the human spirit

  Msgr. Rossetti in Antarctica
  Monsignor Rossetti climbs Castle Rock on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Dec. 14, 2011

Dear friends,

On Dec. 14 exactly 100 years ago, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his party were the first human beings to set foot at the South Pole. No small feat. British Royal Navy officer Capt. Robert Scott and his party were racing to the Pole at the same time but arrived 34 days later. Unfortunately Scott's party perished on the return trip partly due to bad weather. Also, the Norwegians had mastered cross country skiing and the use of sled dogs. They spent a leisurely three days at the Pole before returning. Today, the U.S. honors both men and has named its South Pole site the Amundsen-Scott Station. (A great book to read is Roland Huntford's “Scott and Amundsen: Their Race to the South Pole.”)

I am not surprised a Norwegian was the first to make it. They are brought up on skis and the ice and snow. My mother (Helene Schillingsaus) was born in Trondheim, Norway. A few years ago she returned to visit relatives. Her aunt, then in her late 70s, invited my mother to go cross country skiing to pick cloudberries in the woods. She added, "No need to bring your skis. I have plenty here for you." And when she opened the closet, there were six pairs.

My brother Paul spent some time in northern Norway doing cold weather testing of the new F-16 fighter for the U.S. Air Force. He said cross country skiing was a normal mode of transportation for people in Bodo, Norway. And they are accustomed to the cold. One day the weather got so cold (below minus 40 degrees), they closed the school. So what did all the children do? They went outside to play in the snow and to ski. (You’ll see in the accompanying photo that I spent my day off hiking seven miles across the Ross Ice Shelf and up Castle Rock; this continent brings out my Norwegian genes!)

In true Norwegian fashion, the Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg came to South Pole Station for the centennial and skied 10 kilometers into the station, reenacting Amundsen's last day's trek. While it may seem easy, it was actually minus 34 degrees air temperature and a wind chill well below minus 40 degrees. The Norwegian party told me that he loves to ski and is quite good at it.

 
Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg and Monsignor Rossetti.  

The spirit of Norway is even greater than their love of the outdoors. Responding to the terrible tragedy on July 22 in which an extremist killed scores of Norwegians, the prime minister said the response of Norway will be "more democracy, more openness." Citing a young girl, he added, "If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together." Norway is one of the most generous nations in the world; it allocates about 1.1 percent of its gross national income to international development (whereas the U.S. gives 0.2 percent). Norway is great in its promotion of human development and global peace in many efforts around the globe. This small country, with a population the size of Kentucky, is one of the most beloved nations in the world.

Today Roald Amundsen, Robert Scott, and the Norwegian people remind us of the greatness of the human spirit. I often think God must be pleased, despite all of our weaknesses and sins, at how much the human spirit has accomplished in so short a time. In Antarctica we see people push back the boundaries of human endurance and knowledge. It reminds us of how great we can be. It is little wonder that after God created us, the Scriptures record that God looked at us and saw that it was "very good."

Blessings,
Monsignor Steve
 

God urges us to be stewards of creation

  Ice shelf seal
   A Weddell seal rests on an ice shelf.

Dec. 11, 2011

Dear friends,

The Antarctic Treaty, which went into force in 1961, currently has 48 signatory nations. Antarctica is defined as all the land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees south latitude. The treaty sets aside Antarctica solely for peaceful purposes, especially scientific research. Antarctica has a large land mass underneath all the ice and it also has ice shelves, which considerably expand the size of Antarctica. An ice shelf is a huge sheet of ice floating on top of the water.

The Pine Island Glacier (PIG)  flows into the Amundsen Sea, forming the ice shelf. There are a group of scientists trying to get out to this ice sheet in order to put a probe through the glacier into the sea underneath (what they are calling "Poking the Pig"). The poor visibility, wind, and snow have continued to restrict travel, including my getting to the Pole and their getting out to the glacier. The scientists are scheduled to go out again today; pray that the weather cooperates.

Unfortunately, the rate at which this glacier is emptying into the sea has increased markedly. The head scientist told us that it is moving at the rate of 1.5 feet per hour. "If you put a pole in the ice shelf," he said, "You could see it move on a daily basis." This is not good. The increased emptying of the glaciers into the Amundsen Sea alone is accounting for 7 percent of the world sea level rise.

The rise in Arctic temperatures has greatly increased the melting of the Arctic ice and while Antarctica's temperature is increasing at a much slower rate (except for the peninsula, which is getting much warmer), global warming has directly or indirectly been the cause of the rise in sea level. Global warming in the world around Antarctica has increased the winds around the continent, which has pushed warmer water up underneath the ice shelves and is melting them much faster. Just a one meter rise in the world's sea level will have a devastating impact on many of our coastal cities, including those in the U.S. We should be concerned.

Pope Benedict XVI, labeled by some as a "conservative" German theologian, is now being given the "liberal" title of the "Green" Pope. He had solar panels installed in the Vatican; is working to make the Vatican the first carbon neutral state; is engaged in a reforestation project in Hungary; spoke out in strong defense of the Amazon's frail ecology; and has supported ecological conferences at the Vatican. Catholic theology bases its strong support for ecology in the charge God has given to mankind to be stewards of creation. God gave us dominion over this earth, as the Book of Genesis tells us, and we are to care for this gift. The Pope said, "Human ecology is an imperative."

While people debate the causes of some of our climatological challenges (such as global warming, rising carbon dioxide levels, the ozone hole, overfishing of the oceans, pollution of air and water, scarcity of fresh water, deforestation of the Amazon), no one can debate that humankind around the globe must work together to keep this little green jewel we call Earth inhabitable for all. This, too, is a problem. Countries around the world are slow to set aside personal interest in the interest of the greater good. Will nations be willing to sacrifice for the survival of all? So far, our track record is mixed.

The story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis is illuminative. Because of human pride, the unity of humankind was broken. Humankind was dispersed into many different peoples and languages who eventually began to war against each other. It is becoming increasingly clear that to protect our planet (and to help the economy of the world as well), peoples around the globe need to cooperate across cultural lines. The world is becoming a small, interconnected place.

Antarctica landscape  
Antarctica — a landscape of ice and rock   

Strangely enough, here on this ice-packed continent devoted to science so far away from the rest of the world, important work is being done to understand the causes of our ecological challenges, to construct future climatological models, and to promote better stewardship of God's creation.

Meanwhile, here at McMurdo Station, the weather is looking up a bit. The Christmas choir just finished practicing (a fervent group whose big heart makes up for any lack) and I am looking forward to the centennial of Amundsen, a son of Norway, making it to the Pole. More to come on his 1911 trek to 90 degrees south ...

Blessings to each of you for this grace-filled Advent season,

Monsignor Steve
 

God is happy to hear from you — in good times and bad

  Our Lady of the Snows
  Our Lady of the Snows statue, with McMurdo Station visible in the background.

Dec. 8, 2011

Dear friends,

Today is the Patronal Feast of the USA: the Immaculate Conception. We had a small but fervent crowd here at the McMurdo Station chapel in Antarctica today. I am getting a little taste of what my brother priests in the U.S. are experiencing these days — I have three "parishes" and a multi-ethnic population although mine are a bit different.

We have 1,100 Americans at McMurdo Station and at Scott Base (a short distance from here); we have 60 New Zealanders (fortunately they also speak English … sort of). Tomorrow, I fly for three hours on a C-130 to the South Pole, where there are another 200 Americans whom we also serve. There are also 211 scientists and support personnel in more than 20 field camps scattered around the continent. Many of them spend months sleeping in tents on the ice. Wow, that's what you'd call "roughing it."

McMurdo Station is called the "Gateway to Antarctica" because it is the central base for supply and communications. Helicopters, small Twin Otter aircraft, a C-47, and C130s fly out and back to these sites when they can. But for the last couple of days, we have been pretty much socked in at McMurdo because of the howling winds, blowing snow, and poor visibility — common traits of Antarctic weather.

Nevertheless, on this feast day, I wanted to honor Our Lady so I went on a "pilgrimage" to Our Lady of the Snows statue, a half mile from McMurdo overlooking the town.

The statue was erected as a memorial to a U.S. Navy seabee who, sadly, died in 1956 when his bulldozer broke through the ice into the sea. The statue is affectionately called "Roll Cage Mary" because of the protective cage around it, giving it a kind of fitting grotto look. A group of Carmelite nuns in Christchurch, New Zealand, last repaired the statue in 1995.

Monsignor Steve with memorial cross  
Monsignor Rossetti and the cross honoring British Naval Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his party who froze to death returning from the South Pole in March 1912.  

There are several memorial crosses around McMurdo for those who have given their lives in Antarctica. In the accompanying photo, you can see the cross memorializing British Royal Navy Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his party who froze to death returning from the South Pole in March 1912. They were only 11 miles from their resupply point.

All these memorials remind me that we tend to think of God most in times of extreme conditions. For example, a few weeks after 9/11, the churches in the U.S. were full. Also, you recall the old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Wartime too can bring out our religiosity. And, of course, sickness and death often raise the issue of God for us as well. While it is fitting that we turn to God in extreme times, it might be nice to have a relaxed "chat" with God on a sunny, gentle day when you're feeling good.

I think God is always happy to hear from you, as my Mom and Dad are so very pleased just to hear the voices of their children. Parents can teach us something about God. Once my Mom said, "I like to have the four of my children sit on the couch together so I can just look at their faces." I think God, too, finds great delight just looking at your face.

Tomorrow, it's off to the South Pole, I hope, weather permitting.

Blessings,
Monsignor Steve
 

 

Antarctica is home to no one. We are all passing through.

  C17
  The runway on the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica. To see McMurdo Station, visit the McMurdo webcam.

Dec. 2, 2011

Dear friends,

I arrived on the Ice two days ago and have gotten settled in. One of the attached photos shows the U.S. Air Force C-17 that flew us into McMurdo Station from Christchurch, New Zealand, a five-hour flight. The plane landed on the Ice runway on the McMurdo Ice Shelf which is adjacent to the Ross Ice Shelf. At the runway, the ice is about nine feet thick, which is plenty.

It is easy to lose a sense of proportion here; Antarctica is an entire continent. And the Ross Ice Shelf is enormous. It is the size of France.

It's wonderful to be back, and the stark beauty is captivating. Then come the safety lectures and all the things they don't want you to do. Antarctica is safe if you follow the rules.

 

Anarctica ice  
View of Antarctica from a U.S. Air Force C-17  

The second photo shows a typical shot of Antarctica from the air (you can see a C-17 engine). The continent is beautiful but very inhospitable, not conducive to life of any sort. There is no vegetation and no animal life once you leave the coastal areas. It is all ice and rock. One thing you miss is colors. There are none save white and brown. Thus the need for polarized sunglasses when venturing inland; snow blindness is easy to get and painful. It feels like glass or sand in your eyes. And there are no smells here (great for you allergy sufferers) because there are no trees, no grass, and even no weeds!

Maintaining life here is a chore. Despite water everywhere, it is all frozen. So they desalinate water for drinking at McMurdo and at the South Pole they melt the ice. At the Pole the average yearly temperature is minus 57 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and it is 0 degrees Fahrenheit on average at McMurdo. So we dress up. But today, a beautiful sunny summer day at McMurdo, it is a balmy 26 degrees and everyone is walking around with baseball caps and light jackets and no gloves (including the Catholic chaplain). Even the seals are out sunning themselves on the Ice. Warm is a relative term.

All of us here are working. When you chat with people, which I do regularly as the chaplain, they say they spend their days mostly working and sleeping. They enjoy the rugged beauty and the adventure, but they also look forward to the date they leave. Antarctica is not home to any of us. It is too inhospitable. We are all passing through.

But isn't that true for all of us? We have an illusion that we are permanent residents of this earth, but we are not. We are just passing through. We would like to hold onto things, make life permanent. But time passes quickly, and even more quickly as we age. Grandparents and parents pass on. Then it’s friends and family and other loved ones. New ones come along. Everything changes and our day is quickly passing.

I am saddened today by our increasingly secular culture that seems not to ask the fundamental questions. I do not think it is that people are bad, but rather that they do not face these deeper questions. Where is my life headed? What is the purpose of my life? What happens when I too pass on? How should I spend the time I have?

We are pilgrims, and the journey is so very brief. But, for these 30 days, I am fortunate to be on this rock of ice with a sturdy group of brothers and sisters who are valiantly living in this most inhospitable place. They are devoting their time to science or to helping those who do. They are savoring their experience — each person volunteered to come. But everyone of us is aware that we are pilgrims here. Antarctica is not home but a way-station. So too is this earth but a way-station for a life to come without end.

Antarctica is beautiful and savage, but not home. The next life is even more beautiful, and it is home.

Blessings,
Monsignor Steve
 

 

Why am I going back to the 'Ice'?

  Antarctic program sign
  A sign in New Zealand, a stop on Monsignor Rossetti’s flight to Antarctica

Nov. 28, 2011

Dear friends,

Four years ago, I traveled to Antarctica for the National Science Foundation and ministered as the Catholic chaplain to the American and New Zealand communities there for three weeks. Thanks to the kindness of The Catholic University of America (where I am teaching in the School of Theology and Religious Studies) in making me available, tomorrow I will return for another month as the Catholic chaplain.

Most of you will not have the privilege of visiting the highest, driest, windiest and coldest continent on the face of the earth, and so I am sending along these little notes, complete with photos and spiritual reflections. Feel free to read, forward, delete or ignore. But one thing about Antarctica, its searing cold and stark environment are unforgettable. I hope that these reflections will pass on a bit of the experience of going to the "Ice" (as it is known to those who work there — Antarctica holds 90 percent of the world's ice!).

Antarctica clothing
 
Display of clothing worn at the South Pole  

 The trip actually starts with a rather long preparation, especially the medical exam. Because medical care is limited and the ability to get off the Ice is also limited, everyone must pass an extensive physical. I was "PQ'd" (physically qualified) in the fall and I am now ready to go. During the last 24 hours, I showed up at the American Antarctic staging point in Christchurch, New Zealand, and was issued the extreme cold weather (ECW) gear. It's nice to have someone else provide the clothes!

One of my friends asked why I was going back. This reminds me of people asking me why I became a priest. We tend to answer such difficult questions with rather simplistic answers. But, in reality, how we make decisions — especially important ones — is likely more intuitive and suprarational. It is like asking married persons why they married their spouses. While couples have their own favorite answers, the truth is likewise probably much more intuitive and complex. As human beings, we have deeper ways of knowing and choosing.

The Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, in Degrees of Knowledge, spoke about these deeper forms of knowing with the ultimate being a kind of mystical "connaturality" where we "know" God and the deepest truths by becoming one with the Divine. We know God not so much with rational words but by "tasting" or perhaps you could say by an inner "knowledge" which transcends rational thought.

So why am I going back to the Ice? I have an intuition that it is the right thing to do. All of us hope that our deepest decisions are ultimately the movement of the Spirit in the core part of our being.
Tomorrow, God willing, it's off to the Ice.

Blessings,

Monsignor Steve
 

Antarctica map

Cold Facts

  • The first chapel at McMurdo Station was built in 1956 by pious U.S. Navy Seabees who named it the Chapel of St. Dismas after the good thief because originally there were neither plans nor materials requisitioned to build a chapel. So, they "found" extra materials and built it on their own time. The current chapel, the Chapel of the Snows, is the third. It is the southernmost house of worship in the world.
     
  • At South Pole station, people drink melted ice and snow. The water is so pure that it is specially treated or it would leech out their bones. The water costs 10 times more to make there than in the United States. The average usage is 35 gallons per person per day compared to 100 in the U.S. For example, people are asked to take just two showers a week. The water consumed at the South Pole comes from approximately 500 feet below the surface. The ice at this level accumulated around 550 A.D. when Imperial Rome fell.
     
  • The Celsius and Fahrenheit scales meet at minus 40 degrees.
     
  • The Chilean sea bass is also called the Antarctic toothfish. Because of overfishing in the Ross Sea in Antarctica, the population of toothfish has drastically decreased. According to a New Zealand scientist, toothfish were in abundance right off the coast of McMurdo but are now disappearing rapidly. The toothfish, among other things, is an important source of food for the Orca (killer whale) and the seals.
     
  • Antarctica has seven million cubic miles of ice, 90 percent of the world's total. It averages 1.5 miles thick, and the deepest is three miles thick. The ice is so heavy that it compresses the land over much of the continent to below sea level. The weight actually deforms the South Pole, making the Earth slightly pear-shaped.
     
  • Presently, the Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels worldwide by more than 200 feet if it melted. The total surface area is about 14.2 million square kilometers in summer, much larger than the continental United States, approximately twice the size of Australia, and 50 times the size of the United Kingdom. The United States and Mexico combined approximate the size of Antarctica.