The playground at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School was alive with the joyful energy of dozens of youth prior to the opening of the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference, held in Anchorage from June 3-6. Under a cloudless, spring sky, the middle and high school youth swung from monkey bars, shot hoops and talked with old and new friends.
As they and other parishioners gathered for the opening Sunday evening Mass, a lively enthusiasm permeated the church. St. Elizabeth choir members, joined by youth musicians, concluded their rehearsal, and then prayed together prior to the start of the sacred liturgy.
A significant number of those musicians were from Saint Anthony parish. This is the first year the Mountain View church has sent such a large number of participants. Of the 20 who attended, most were members of the parish’s Samoan Community, and part of a recently formed youth choir. It was the first time any of them had attended the annual conference, and according to youth minister, Georgianne Carpenter, “they are very excited to be here.”
To the surprise of those parishioners unaware of the special Mass, ACYC emcees from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Greg and Katie Gould, welcomed the 200 ACYC youth and others who packed the church. Their lively exhortation to shout out names of the far-flung parishes throughout the archdiocese from where they hailed elicited a loud response. The couple encouraged youth to use the conference as an opportunity to encounter Christ, eucharistically and with each other, and reminded them to “respect each other and respect the space in which we are gathering,” they said. This was followed by a short, enthusiastic chant of “Do not be afraid” — the theme of this year’s conference, and Pope Francis’ chosen theme for World Youth Day.
The principal celebrant for the Mass was Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne, joined by Bishop Chad Zielinski from Fairbanks and Bishop Andrew Bellisario of Juneau. Father Patrick Brosamer, pastor of Saint Elizabeth, Fathers Dan Hebert, Michael Shields, Luzvimindo Flores and Robert Whitney concelebrated. They were assisted by permanent deacon Michael Hawker and newly ordained transitional deacon Kevin Klump.
As June 3 was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Archbishop Etienne’s homily addressed the important feast day, noting that it is an annual opportunity for the church to renew her love and commitment to Christ.
He spoke of the covenant of God, first given to humanity through the Ten Commandments — a covenant sealed in blood. Infidelity to that covenant resulted in God sending his son, Jesus Christ, who, at the Last Supper instituted the Eucharist, a new and eternal covenant. The archbishop noted that in the Gospels there is no mention of a lamb, or of roasted meat at this sacred meal. Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gives his life, his flesh, his blood, he noted.
“Eucharist is the heart of Jesus,” he said, “the perpetual means by which divine life is shared with us.” We, as church, believe and teach that Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus. “This intimacy of Jesus is where we are on Corpus Christi Sunday,” he added.
When we receive the body and blood of Jesus, he said, “We become walking tabernacles, we carry Jesus in us, He goes with us. The kind of love and reverence that we give him here, we are now called to show and give each other because he’s made us one with himself, and in himself has made us one with one another.”
He concluded: “May this week for our youth be another way for you to encounter Christ, to grow in your relationship with Jesus. And may you encounter him not just in the Eucharist, but encounter him in one another. Be present as Christ to one another. And the same truly goes for all members of the church.”
Before the dismissal, Archbishop Etienne conferred a special blessing on students and graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville, who are assisting Father Michael Shields, pastor of the archdiocese’s mission parish in Magadan, Russia. Father Shields and these young adults facilitated workshops at this year’s ACYC conference, before they embarked on a series of missions in rural parishes throughout Alaska this summer.
Following Mass, participants shared a spaghetti dinner together in the school gymnasium, where the excitement and enthusiasm for ACYC was pervasive. A large group of youth from Sacred Heart parish in Wasilla and Our Lady of the Lake parish in Big Lake, who are part of a Catholic homeschooling group, looked forward to what was to come. Newcomer, Jadzia McBride, who said she has been immersed in Catholicism since birth, came to ACYC, “hoping I can learn a lot from this.” She also viewed these four days as a time to discern a calling to a vocation as a nun, she added.
“I love the feeling near the end of the conference,” said Kolbe Myers, attending his second ACYC.
His brother Zachary agreed, “Closer to God.”
Their friend, Nathan, expressed the sentiment of at least some in attendance when he said, “My mom kinda sent me.”
The four-day conference included dozens of workshops on the faith, along with liturgies, concerts and recreational outings — all geared around building up the faith of Alaska’s young Catholics.