Just days before retiring, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz found himself surrounded by young Catholics, a group he says deeply inspired him during his 15 years leading the archdiocese.
Sitting in the official chair of the archbishop — a seat he would permanently vacate 72 hours later — Archbishop Schwietz basked in a long and heartfelt standing ovation from hundreds of youth and others gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral on Nov. 6.
Archbishop Schwietz was on hand to perform the installation Mass of Vincentian Father Andrew Bellisario as pastor of the co-cathedral and to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for all the young people in the archdiocese.
“When we were getting ready to start Mass there on Nov. 6 there were a few of the youth there — I saw 30 or so and was impressed,” Archbishop Schwietz recalled in a Nov. 10 interview with the Catholic Anchor. “But by the time we started Mass there were a couple hundred young people — they just poured in. I was really blown away. It tells me that they are really open to someone my age getting to know them. I was really amazed. It was very moving.”
Teens from St. Patrick and St. Benedict parishes arrived en masse to the event, while young people from other parishes also turned out. The Mass served as the last official function for the archbishop before handing leadership of the archdiocese over to newly appointed Archbishop Paul Etienne, who was installed on Nov. 9.
Over the years, Archbishop Schwietz endeared himself to youth through his sense of humor and approachable personality. He has attended multiple World Youth Day pilgrimages with young people. He also helped to launch and made it a priority to participate in the annual Alaska Catholic Youth Conference.
“World Youth Days have been great because young people meet Catholics from all over the world and they see the universal nature of the church,” Archbishop Schwietz told the Anchor. “Being a part of their experience has been really important to me and it is important for my priesthood too. Also being with them for the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference has allowed me to get to know them more personally, to pray with them and to experience the joy they bring.”
Youth coordinators across the archdiocese appreciate the archbishop’s dedication to youth.
“I think that’s something that’s special about this archdiocese,” St. Patrick’s youth coordinator John Barrientes said of having an approachable archbishop who is comfortable around youth.
St. Andrew’s youth coordinator Ricky Shoop agreed, noting that the archbishop’s closeness is a blessing for him and youth from his parish in Eagle River, where Archbishop Schwietz continues to serve as pastor.
“He’s very available to the kids and being with them and hearing confessions or coming to a Star Wars movie marathon,” Shoop reflected.
During his Nov. 6 homily, Archbishop Schwietz expressed gratitude to everyone in the archdiocese, including the youth.
“And so there comes a time for all of us that we have to move on and to thank the Lord for all he has given, and that is what I want to do tonight,” he said. “In particular, for his having given me all of you as friends, as co-journeyers in the way of life, as people who have been such supporters of my faith and my service to you here in the archdiocese.”
To view a video from the Nov. 6 Mass with youth, go online to: youtube.com/user/CatholicAnchor