by Most Reverend Edward J. Burns

It was wonderful being in Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day. As many of you know, we had 31 people from the Diocese of Juneau who, along with another 110 pilgrims from the rest of Alaska, made up the over 30,000 young people from around the United States to attend this gathering with Pope Benedict XVI. This was my fourth trip to this gathering, but of course, my first as a bishop.

The overall theme of this gathering was: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.” This theme was treated over the course of three days with the center of each talk taking on various perspectives. On Wednesday, Aug. 17, the message was focused on the theme “Firm in the Faith,” which invited young people to examine the gift of faith. Thursday’s theme, “Established in Jesus Christ,” touched on the importance of young people establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and building their lives with him. Friday’s catechesis addressed the topic, “Witnesses to Christ in the World,” and emphasized the need for all young people to be missionaries to the world around them, particularly among their peers.

It was an honor for me to be chosen as one of the bishop catechists for World Youth Day. In my session on Friday, held at the Madrid Arena, I had the chance to challenge the youth to go back to their various dioceses with excitement and the commitment to witness to the faith. It was at this gathering that I singled out the youth of the Diocese of Juneau. I indicated to them that as their bishop, I needed them to come back to the Diocese to witness to the faith and to stay strong in Jesus Christ. My point was that every bishop wants the young people to come back from World Youth Day and profess their love for the Lord and commitment to the Church.

It is no small effort to attend World Youth Day. There is a lot of planning and a lot of sacrifice involved. I am particularly aware of the great efforts put forth by the people of St. Ann’s in Yakutat. I applaud the efforts of those from St. Gregory’s in Sitka. It was an impressive showing from St. Catherine’s in Petersburg. And, it was good to have the representation from St. Paul’s in Juneau. It was not an easy task, but I do believe that the benefits are many. I am pleased that the young people of this small diocese entered into a pilgrimage that led to the major event of celebrating Mass with Pope Benedict XVI, the successor of St. Peter – a gathering of over 2 million young Catholics from around the world. It was an impressive image of the vitality of the Church.

While many people played a part in the success of this trip, I want to thank a number of key people. I am grateful that Fr. Thomas Weise and Fr. Pat Travers were among the six priests who made the trip from Alaska. The presence of the priests made such a wonderful impact on the young people. I am grateful, too, for the Knights of Columbus of both Juneau parishes, in particular, Robert Tonkin and Frank Bonadonna for their leadership and accommodations. The parishioners and clergy from the Cathedral, St. Paul the Apostle Church, St. Catherine’s, St. Gregory’s and St. Ann’s all worked hard and supported this wonderful experience for our young people. Special mention must go to Jenny Wheeler of St. Ann’s, Maybelle Filler of Sitka and Allison Jackson for their organizational help and leadership.

Through it all, I relied on John Amoratis, Director of Youth Ministry in Juneau. John was superb in being the Diocesan contact with the group’s organizers in Anchorage. He produced the magnificent blog, filled with videos, for our website which followed the trip day by day. In fact, you can see on the blog that the ‘hits’ to our website went from about 600 in July to close to 4,000 ‘hits’ in August. If you get a chance, please check it out (www.dioceseofjuneau.org).

It has been a joy to watch this event unfold and this trip become a reality. Special thanks go to Bob McMorrow of Anchorage who served as the overall coordinator of the trip. Through his past experiences with World Youth Day and his superb organizational skills, our young people were well taken care of. Along with Bob, Theresa Austin of Anchorage did a phenomenal job in keeping the records straight and assuring that all the finances were in place.

I am aware that when you start to thank people there is a possibility of forgetting someone. If I have forgotten anyone, I am truly sorry. Overall, the importance of this is to highlight the need to keep the faith alive in our young people and for them to pass it on. The bishops of Alaska are grateful for the wonderful representation from our state, and we are already planning for the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.