A total of 180 teens turned out for the annual four-day Alaska Catholic Youth Conference in Anchorage last month.
Three Alaskan bishops and dozens of guest speakers and volunteers provided youth from all across the state with liturgies, sacraments, faith formation opportunities and concrete ways to serve their community.
During daily Masses at St. Benedict Church and Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, youth participated as choir members, cantors, readers, altar servers, gift bearers and in hospitality.
Nationally known Catholic singer and songwriter Jesse Manibusan joined local musicians in providing music during the liturgies.
The event kicked off June 5 when youth embarked on the conferences’ first-ever Marian procession, a 3.1-mile walk from St. Benedict Church to Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral. Teens, clergy, volunteers, seminarians and others marched through the streets of Anchorage in a prayerful and public demonstration of the Catholic faith.
Following the procession, participants gathered for the opening Mass at the co-cathedral, after which they traveled back to Lumen Christi High School for an evening concert by Jesse Manibusan.
Attendees began each day together in morning prayer before dispersing to some two dozen different workshops.
Manibusan and fellow nationally known Catholic speaker Meg Hunter-Kilmer headlined a group of more than 20 presenters who tackled topics that included talks on engaging the Scriptures, finding peace in Christ, understanding the communion of the saints, responding to transgenderism and seeing oneself as Christ does. Other talks highlighted the needs of those struggling for basic provisions in places like Ethiopia, the practice of praying with sacred artworks, finding healing after abortion, pursuing personal holiness, cultivating authentic friendships and seeking a personal encounter with Christ.
Several diocesan priests from Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau led workshops, concelebrated Masses and heard confessions. Also in attendance were two friars from the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit in California and two Dominican sisters. There were four seminarians on hand — two from Fairbanks and two from Anchorage.
Apart from workshops and liturgies, teens had opportunities to forge friendships by hiking Flat Top mountain or swimming at H2Oasis. Additionally, 60 middle school age attendees made 500 sandwiches for clients at the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, and picked up trash on the grounds of St. Benedict Church and Lumen Christi High School.
On the evening of the second day boys and girls split up to attend clergy and religious panel discussions where they heard from and asked questions of those who have embraced a call to become priests or religious brothers or sisters.
Daily Masses were celebrated by at least one of the Alaskan bishops — Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski or Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz. These three men, along with Father Pat Travers, apostolic administrator for the Juneau Diocese, were featured guests at the annual ACYC Tonight Show, where they fielded questions and socialized with teens.
The second day of workshops built on the first, tackling issues such as the work of Catholic Relief Services, exploring the lives of the saints, looking at the historic development of the Mass, forming good habits, learning about the importance of journaling and looking at how to live the Gospel amid a relativistic culture.
On the third day, teens set aside time to help Pope Francis prepare for his upcoming Synod on Young People to be held in October 2018. In preparation for this meeting of bishops from around the world, the pope has asked youth across the globe to advise him on issues and challenges they face and how the church can best assist them in discerning God’s plan for their life and their role in the church. To this end, Alaskans filled out answers to questions provided by the Vatican.
Later on, teens heard from married couples and single people about how they live out God’s call in their lives.
The third day ended with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Schwietz, followed by small group discussions and a reconciliation service with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The fourth and final day of the conference concluded with the teens gathering with Archbishop Etienne for the closing Mass and final blessing.