By Father Leo WalshCatholicAnchor.org
From its humble beginnings as a gathering of priests from the Archdiocese of Anchorage at St. Bernard’s Parish in Talkeetna, the annual Statewide Priests’ Convocation has grown into a unique opportunity for prayer, priestly fraternity, and continuing education for the priests of Alaska. Each year, the priests and the bishops serving throughout the state gather to celebrate their vocation, pray for those they serve, and engage a variety of topics to help them serve more effectively in ministry.
This year the convocation met in Anchorage at the Co-Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After gathering for Mass each day with the parishioners, the priests and bishops were treated to a series of lectures and group discussions with Fr. Dick Benson, C.M., Vice President and Academic Dean at the Chicago Theological Union. The presentations began with a brief overview of Roman Catholic moral theology and then quickly delved into the topics confronting pastors and clergy in the present day such as beginning and end of life issues, in vitro fertilization, human cloning, pastoral care of homosexual persons, issues related to sexual identity, and gender dysphoria.
“I don’t do Roman Catholic moral theology light!” quipped Fr. Benson. “The challenge is to be able to apply the Church’s very clear moral teachings to concrete situations in a way that will help people do the right thing not because they have to, but because they want to…Still, it’s not about the cura regularum, the care of rules and regulations. Rather, it’s all about the cura animarum, the care of souls.”
Fr. Benson cautioned the participants that given the amount of material, the experience would be a bit like trying to drink out of a fire hose. To help process the information, the priests gathered in small groups to discuss real-life case studies related to the topic. Sometimes the response of each group was similar. At other times, there was heartfelt, but well- reasoned divergence of opinion. Nevertheless, all left with a better sense of the science surrounding the issue, the Church’s teaching on the matter, and how to integrate it all into one’s ministry with the People of God.
“It certainly wasn’t boring,” commented Fr. Scott Garrett, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Dillingham. “Definitely one of the better ones I’ve been to.”
The convocation also serves as an annual reunion for the priests of Alaska. For many, this is the only time they will be with the other priests serving in the far-flung reaches of the state. The fellowship, lively theological discussion and, of course, pastoral storytelling all combine to make the convocation one of the favorite events of the year. Students from Lumen Christi Catholic High School graciously served tasty meals prepared by Mary Gore, executive director of the Conference and Kim Bakic, executive secretary to the Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Andrew Bellisario.
The annual convocation is sponsored by the Alaska Catholic Conference of Bishops.