Alaska bishops field impromptu questions from teens

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Sitting before some 150 teenagers and recounting the most awkward moments of senior prom might rattle the average guy, but not Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz.

As part of this year’s Alaska Catholic Youth Conference (ACYC) all three Alaskan bishops were guests in a live evening event called “The Tonight Show with Heather and Horatio.” Heather Shaw and Horacio Gonzalez, both from the Diocese of Juneau, facilitated the event.

Held in the Lumen Christi High School gym, the evening show was part of the larger ACYC gathering that brought in youth from around Alaska for liturgies, prayer and workshops on the Catholic faith.

The show began with a collection of “just Catholic things” hashtags, shared on Twitter. ACYC participants submitted #justcatholicthings: silly experiences related to their faith.

Next, the three Alaskan bishops were welcomed onto the stage with the teen audience facing them in the bleachers. Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Juneau Bishop Edward Burns and Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski proceeded to introduce themselves to the energetic teens. The bishops then enthusiastically participated in a high-energy competition of the game “CatchPhrase” with a teen partner from their home dioceses.

Prior to the event, students were encouraged to use social media to submit questions for the bishops. The following three questions were asked, each to one bishop.

Bishop Zielinski was asked: “Could you explain more about the concept of truth, beauty and goodness, in particular, to art?”

“If you go through the grocery store and look at all those magazines, they tell you that this is what beauty is supposed to be in the eyes of the world,” he began.

Bishop Zielinski then contrasted that with the beauty one finds in a child.

“How often have you been at church or at a family gathering and somebody’s holding a little baby, and they say, ‘That’s beautiful?’ That baby doesn’t appear on the front page of a magazine,” he said. “There’s something about the creative hand of God that’s present in that little child that’s indescribable, and that child brings joy to your heart.”

True beauty, he added, is “connected to the goodness of God, which is the gift of life, which is his truth, the way that we live in relationship with one another.”

The next question was addressed to Bishop Burns: “How do you become a bishop? What does that even mean?”

Bishop Burns replied by first noting that “it always comes as a shock when somebody is named bishop.”

“People ask me, ‘What were you doing when you were named a bishop?,’” he recounted. “And I said, ‘What was I doing?’ I was in Pittsburgh, minding my own business.”

He then explained that there are three ordinations that occur in the church.

“The first is to the diaconate, the second is to the priesthood, and the third ordination is to the episcopacy, to become a bishop,” Bishop Burns said. “A bishop has the fullness of priesthood — we’re able to ordain men to the priesthood and, of course, oversee a diocese.”

As to how a man gets chosen to become a bishop, he said it is a work of the Holy Spirit.

“You’re never sure,” he said. “So it was not only a jaw-dropper that I was appointed bishop; the other jaw-dropper was Juneau, Alaska. I have to say this, I am absolutely honored and privileged to be the shepherd of the people in southeast Alaska.”

Archbishop Schwietz had to think back a few years to answer his question: “How was your prom?”

“I think the question is about my senior prom in high school,” he began. “I went to an all-boys high school, and there were a couple of all-girls Catholic high schools in town too. My friend and I decided that we were going to share a car and double date for the prom. We had been seeing the girls for quite some time who we asked out for the prom.”

“Well, my timing wasn’t really good in that I had been thinking about the possibility of entering the seminary and during the course of the evening I made the mistake of mentioning this to my girlfriend,” Archbishop Schwietz continued. “Not the best thing to do in the middle of the prom. And so we got into a big fight. So my friend came over and we did some negotiating, and I ended up with his partner and he ended up with mine. And I think that was the beginning of my vocation.”

After fielding a few more questions from the youth, the bishops had a chance to turn the table and question the teens.

“What is it that we as bishops can do to help strengthen your faith and help you grow in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” they asked.

The youth responded with specifics.

“I love community service and I would love to see more service opportunities available through the archdiocese, throughout the state,” one participant replied.

Another asked the bishops to “continue to give us lots of talks about God. It does help a lot of us. It’s a lot of fun to hear you and a lot of fun to learn about God too.”

One teen said it would be great if every youth in Alaska could attend ACYC.

“I just want everyone to come to these every year,” the teen replied. “It’s really great.”

Another youth noted that bishops could help them by “just staying here and talking to us like you do almost every year. Thank you for giving your time to us.”

In closing, each bishop gave a parting word and thanked the participants for attending ACYC.

“Be assured of our prayers during the Mass for our young people,” Bishop Zielinski said.

“Stay close to Christ and be faithful to our Lord,” Bishop Burns responded.

“And keep us in your prayers,” Archbishop Schwietz concluded.


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