From June 3-6, teens from across the state will rally in Anchorage for the annual Alaska Catholic Youth Conference. The Catholic Anchor caught up with the Archdiocese of Anchorage’s Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Matthew Beck to learn more about what to expect from the upcoming gathering.
Beck is optimistic that the event will draw around 200 middle school and high school age youth to Anchorage for those four days. Teens will travel from the far reaches of the state, covering all three dioceses, for the event. Throughout the conference, these young Catholics will have opportunities for faith enriching talks, participating in the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession, fellowship with one another, and service opportunities.
Should parish groups wish to do service projects, Beck will be connecting them with local community organizations for a day either before or after the conference. This is a change from previous years, when the service projects were integrated into the four-day event. One event that Beck is particularly excited about is the addition of Catholic Relief Services to the conference line up. Caroline Brennan, who has worked with CRS in 22 countries, will be present to do some activities around the work of Catholic Relief Services.
The theme of the conference is “Do not be afraid,” following Pope Francis’s chosen theme for World Youth Day, which takes place in Panama in January. Drawing upon this theme, presenters and musicians from Alaska and beyond will guide Alaskan youth closer to Christ and to a deeper understanding of who he is calling them to be.
The four Alaskan bishops will be present: Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne and Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski and Juneau Bishop Andrew Bellisario. The three prelates will celebrate Mass, hear confessions, discuss vocations with young men, and take part in The ACYC Tonight Show. Joining them in celebrating the sacraments and giving talks will be several priests from throughout Alaska.
Representatives from Catholic Relief Services, Project Rachel, The Avila Institute and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia will be among the speakers. Local lay ministers from across Alaska — as far away as North Pole and Ketchikan — will give talks as well.
Father Michael Shields, pastor of the archdiocese’s mission parish in Magadan, Russia, will bring a group of college students and graduates from Franciscan University of Steubenville, who will be doing mission work in Alaska this summer. These students will present several of the workshop sessions. Craig and Katie Gould of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will return as the annual emcees. Finally, Jesse Manibusan will be the musician for the conference. The singer/songwriter has played at many national and international Catholic gatherings, including World Youth Day.
Beck believes that all youth should consider attending this event.
“This is the bishops’ gathering with young people. It’s their invitation to join them for four days of prayer and learning and fellowship together,” he said. “So, I think it’s important to come together as a church of Alaska and spend time with our bishops doing that.”
John Burger is a longtime volunteer at ACYC, and is one of this year’s speakers. He echoes this invitation to youth.
“ACYC is an excellent opportunity for youth to grow in their faith by hearing talks given by national Catholic speakers and musicians,” he said. “All while getting to know other young Catholics from around the state.”
Reflecting upon his years of helping with the event, he recalled the fruit that it has borne in the souls of young Catholics.
“Every year, at ACYC, I see more and more youth become on fire with the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The excitement they feel, the joy they encounter, the wisdom they gain, and Christ whom they fall in love with through Mass, adoration and reconciliation service, and the talks, fills these kids up with so much love and joy.”