Alaska Catholic Youth Conference ‘not just a retreat’

Youth planning to attend the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference (ACYC) are in for some new surprises and activities. Organizers for the annual conference, held at Lumen Christi High School and Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral from June 6 -9, are aiming for an engaging, uplifting and challenging event — open to middle and high school students.

Fairbank’s Youth Minister, Lynch-Baldwin said ACYC provides opportunities to share and reflect on one’s faith.

“It fosters strong faith and dedication to vocations — it is not just a retreat,” she observed. “We are trying to touch young people where they are.”

The theme for this year’s conference, “Boundless Mercy,” is in keeping with Pope Francis’s call for a “Year of Mercy.” Separate tracks for the younger and older kids aim to provide a relevant and age-appropriate experience for all attendees. Approximately 150 participants are expected to arrive from many Alaskan communities, as well as Anchorage.

ACYC again welcomes friars of the Community of St. John and sisters from the Dominican Sisters of Nashville. Several Alaskan clergy, including Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Juneau Bishop Edward Burns and Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski, will preside at liturgies and provide opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation. Keynote speaker, Bishop Frank Caggiano, of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., will join them.

Bishop Caggiano has delivered addresses at World Youth Day gatherings in Sydney, Australia and Rio de Janeiro. He recently served as the bishop adviser for the National Federation of Youth Ministry.

Nationally known liturgist and musician, Pedro Rubaclava, director of Hispanic Ministries for Oregon Catholic Press, will present a concert at Our Lady of Guadalupe on the first night of the four-day event. In addition to leading music for the various liturgies and prayer services, he will deliver a talk on “spiritual mercy.” Each day’s focus will be on a specific aspect of God’s mercy, with several sessions presented in Spanish.

The event begins Monday morning with an optional Flat Top hike and pizza lunch, followed by the opening Mass with Archbishop Schwietz presiding. Conference emcees Heather Shaw and Horatio Gonzalez, of the Juneau Diocese, will welcome attendees and host a Tuesday evening social event with the three Alaskan bishops.

A jam-packed schedule for successive days includes presentations by Father John Michael Paul of the Community of Saint John, Jesuit Father Mark McGregor, who serves as military chaplain at Eielson Air Force Base, and Sister Kathy Radich, of the Fairbanks Diocese. In addition to workshops on various topics, attendees will participate in several social justice service projects. Mass will be offered each day by one of the participating bishops.

“The bishops’ primary role is to engage with the young people,” said Matt Beck, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

A veteran of past Alaska Catholic Youth Conferences, Beck is working locally with Bonnie Bezousek, director of Faith Formation. Kelle Lynch-Baldwin, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Fairbanks Diocese, and Heather Shaw, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults for the Juneau Diocese, join them in planning the ambitious project.

ACYC has always been a collaborative effort of the three Alaskan dioceses, but Anchorage has historically taken on the bulk of the work. This year’s conference aims to expand the contributions of the other two dioceses with a goal of including more youth from those areas.

Organizers anticipate the bulk of participants will be local youth; however, several outlying parishes are expected to send youth to the event. Youth director Shaw said Juneau participants will be bringing several vehicles and more than a dozen high school students who will take a ferry to Haines and then drive to Anchorage. She is looking forward to the road trip and said, “It is a large opportunity to bond in a different way.”

Beck encouraged participation by pastors, administrators and catechists.

“It is an opportunity for church leaders to connect with young people and build healthy relationships,” he said.

As organizers finalize content of the workshops, work out the logistics of feeding and transporting a few busloads of teens, calendars are filled with meetings. Dozens of volunteers, parish and youth leaders and parents are crucial to a successful endeavor.

Those interested in attending ACYC are encouraged to speak with their parish youth director or visit the Anchorage Archdiocesan website: Information is provided about registration, the schedule of events, and details on presenters and the communities and ministries they serve.

'Alaska Catholic Youth Conference ‘not just a retreat’'
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