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By Malie Hudson

 This year has brought many changes to the way churches in the Diocese are staying connected with parishioners. Parishes have moved religious education classes, bible study and several other ministries online.

 St. Mary’s in Fontana has taken it a step further with a new nature-inspired video series hosted by its pastor, Father Albert Utzig.

 The videos can be found on the parish’s YouTube channel, St. Mary’s Fontana Ca. The video series, titled “Adventures with Fr. Al,” begins with a short introduction that displays a series of about 20 photos from Father Al’s adventures along with a quote from St. Columban - “If you want to know the Creator, know creation.” The series, which began in August, focuses on this idea as Father Al narrates what he sees while hiking local scenic trails in the Angeles National Forest.

 “I love going to the mountains,” he says. “So, in some simple way, I just wanted to help people appreciate the beauty around them by sharing my own enjoyment of the mountains and the snow and nature.”

 The videos are brief but are packed with facts about the trails and mountains, as well as the animals, trees and plants along the way. He began hiking nine years ago when he moved to Fontana.

 “As soon as I got here, I started looking at the paper maps for the National Forest and the hiking trails. I found a lot of them,” he said. “The most challenging adventures were earlier on when I wasn’t aware of what the mountains are like or how rough they can be.”

 Fr. Al, who is a member of the Diocesan Laudato Si Committee that seeks to raise ongoing awareness of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the ecology, ends each video by encouraging viewers to learn and experience nature as a path that leads them closer to God the Creator. He uses his camera phone to record his adventures and brings them back to the church where Parish Secretary Karla Camacho, and a parish committee, help him edit and upload the videos to YouTube.

 “It’s very interesting because I’ve been learning a lot about the different plants in the mountains,” said Camacho. “It really touches me because I love to be out in nature. It’s my way of connecting with God.”

 Her six-year-old nephew, Julian, and his family are also parishioners. He enjoyed the video where Father Al finds coyote scats and compares them to those from dogs.

 “He started to get interested in it because he didn’t know that coyotes ate fruit. It opened his mind to things he didn’t know, things he thought were just silly and now he sees it as informative,” said Camacho.

 Lucy Reyes is enjoying the new series and her 10-year-old niece, Mariana, is also gaining new knowledge from “Adventures with Fr. Al.”

 “She loves nature and enjoys how Father Al puts nature into a different perspective,” said Reyes. “She’s likes seeing him as he explores different places.”

 Although there’s no schedule of when new videos are shared, Father Al plans to continue sharing his adventures from the top of the local mountains on a regular basis.

 “People really enjoy it because they would love to get up there,” he said. “I take my walk, I take some videos when I see things that are interesting, I bring it back and try to make something of it.”

 Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.