Catholics, particularly young Catholics, may be a small and scattered minority in Alaska, but World Youth Day 2011 is going to need a big igloo to host the 160-person delegation the 49th state is sending to Madrid. From Anchorage, Archbishop Roger Schwietz—yet another Oblate bishop energized for WYD—is following up on a promise.
Since the first World Youth Day that I attended, in Denver in 1993, I have told the youth of my diocese (then it was Duluth, now Anchorage) that if a number of them wish to attend WYD I will also go. I find that sharing the experience with our youth is a special way of bonding with them even if I am not with them all the time. I also feel that it is important for our youth to encounter our Holy Father so that they have a personal experience of the Vicar of Christ and hear him teaching them. Further, it is important for young people to have a sense of the Universal Church, since, especially here in Alaska, they tend to be isolated from fellow Catholics, given the small percentage of Catholics in the population.
I hope the youth attending WYD will be supported in their faith, which is so often attacked in the school and work environments. It is also important that they have a sense of the vitality of the Church, experiencing the dynamic of so many youth gathered together, since many of our parishes are small and the proportion of youth to older people in the community is small.
Also, I find that the stereotype of Americans that youth around the world pick up, especially through the media, can be corrected by their personal encounter with our U.S. youth. WYD is helpful for the breaking down of barriers of mistrust and misunderstanding.
I will never forget the moment of the arrival of Pope John Paul II at the stadium in Denver. I think it was a moving moment for all of us bishops gathered there, as well as for the young people. I also will not forget the huge mass of people gathered in Manila for the closing Mass of that WYD and how polite and well behaved they were. The faith of those people was contagious.
The WYD gathering is one of great gifts that Pope John Paul II gave to the Church. It displays his, and Pope Benedict's, faith in young people and encourages us bishops to have that same faith and give that same attention to youth. It has given new life to youth ministry and has, at the same time, encouraged young people to consider that the Lord may be calling them to service in the Church in ordained of consecrated life. Added to that is the opportunity for catechesis so that our young people can understand their faith better while deepening their love for Jesus.
These past WYDs that I have attended have certainly been an inspiration to my ministry and a support through the years. I have found that the preparation for attending WYD, the fund-raising and other activities, have had positive results in the participation of our youth in their parish life, and thus a source of hope to other parishioners also. I certainly hope these events continue in the future.
+Roger Schwietz, OMI
Archbishop Roger Schwietz
Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, USA