Fifty years of building Christ’s community together at Queen of Peace

Amidst capital campaign, Denver’s most diverse parish source of a ‘new Pentecost’

Roxanne King

Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, while predominately middle to lower income, is the most diverse in the archdiocese and among the busiest.

It is a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees, the poor, and for the average Catholic seeking the sacraments and/or deeper faith formation. This year the parish turns 50, but to continue its service to the congregation and to the wider Catholic and Aurora communities, the church needs to build a new $12.5 million parish center to replace its current outdated and unsafe facility. With $4.6 million pledged since November, a dramatic success given the parishioners income levels, they have nearly reached their $5 million capital campaign goal.

“This is a great accomplishment for this community, which is more than 50 percent immigrant,” said Father Felix Medina, pastor since 2013.  “From the moment I arrived, I have been aware of the urgent need to address the challenge of our great growth in parishioners and our lack of functional facilities to accommodate our many services and groups.”

More than 12,000 people walk through the parish’s doors every week and are served by some 100 different ministries and activities, ranging from Mass (6,000 people attend weekly) and religious education (1,200 students are in religious education); to social ministry, including Aurora’s only soup kitchen, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society, to pro-life apostolates that offer material and spiritual aid to needy mothers, to faith-building charisms and community-building cultural groups.

“The motto for our campaign, Building Christ’s community together, summarizes what our parish has done for thousands of people during these last five decades,” Father Medina said. “The beauty of the Catholic Church, which is for people of every language and color, is manifested here at Queen of Peace.”

In a letter of support for the parish’s building plans, auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez, concurred.

“Queen of Peace is the parish with the most diversity of nations and people in the archdiocese,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God has given to you the responsibility and blessing of welcoming and serving immigrants from all over the world … who are seeking the comfort of God in a new and unknown place.”

“This parish has always welcomed people from outside,” Father Medina explained, noting that initially Queen of Peace served people from across the United States located at three military facilities active in Aurora, just one of which remains.

Aurora, CO – Pastor Father Felix Medina seeks to build a new parish center to bring Denver’s most diverse Catholic church together. (photo by Andrew Wright)

In recent decades, ethnic diversity in the city has swelled, making Aurora a “minority-majority city,” meaning the total population of minority groups is larger than the white, non-Hispanic or Latino groups, according to the city’s 2016 demographic report. In Aurora Public Schools, 130 countries and 166 languages are represented among the student population.

“The new parish center will bring together people from more than 100 nations,” Father Medina said, referring to his congregation’s diversity.

Established on June 12,1968 by Archbishop James Casey, on Sept. 4 that year, Father Frank McCullough, OMI, oversaw a groundbreaking for the first parish structure, which included a 40-seat chapel, rectory and offices. In 1970, a second facility was built, which included a chapel, a gym, meeting rooms and a kitchen. Five years later, as the parish expanded, a 1,200-seat church was built.

In 1987, the Oblates of Mary left and the Denver Archdiocese appointed the first diocesan pastor of the parish, Father Bill Breslin. That same year, Queen of Peace opened a day hospitality center for the homeless at a nearby location. In 1999, Archbishop Charles Chaput dedicated a new church building.

Vince and Dini Zagarella have worshiped at Queen of Peace since 1969, when the parish, consisting of a handful of families, held Mass at the local Seventh Day Adventist Church.

“Their services were on Saturday and ours were on Sunday,” Vince Zagarella recalled with a chuckle.

“We’ve grown from an intimate, fairly affluent parish to a parish of many, many nationalities that is no longer affluent,” added Dini Zagarella.

Transplants from New York, the Zagarellas relish their parish’s diversity. Their three children, who are now grown with families of their own, made their sacraments at Queen of Peace.

“It’s our home,” Dini Zagarella said.

The couple has held various leadership positions in the parish and currently serve as honorary chairs of the capital campaign

“It’s great that we’ve reached almost $5 million, but we need a lot more than that,” Dini Zagarella said. “We just keep praying God will help us.”

The parish determined its center was no longer adequate back in 2005, but an economic downturn and other setbacks forced the congregation to put their hopes for a new parish center on hold. Given the deplorable condition of the current parish center, waiting is no longer an option.

“It is falling apart,” Father Medina said. “There are leaks in the rooms, leaks in the foundation, mold, asbestos, out of code wooden floors. The shingles are falling apart. The old building needs to be torn down and a new one built over it.”

“Eventually, our parish center will be condemned,” Vince Zagarella said. “It’s beyond repair and embarrassing. We had to put good money into stopping the leaks before we even started the capital campaign.”

To cover the total building project cost, the parish plans to augment capital campaign proceeds with savings and building fund monies, a grant, a loan, the possible sale of a property,

and by fundraising among outside sources, such as former parishioners.

“We need outside funds,” Vince Zagarella said.

Aurora, CO – parishioners and the community of Queen of Peace parish (photo by Andrew Wright)

The parish hopes that out of gratitude for its generous service to former parishioners and to the wider community, people may be willing to help the congregation reach their goal as they approach their 50th anniversary. A new parish center is essential to continue the new evangelization at Queen of Peace, the pastor said.

“It will make possible the continued teaching and integrating of so many into our society and into the Church,” Father Medina said, “helping them to be good Catholic citizens of our society—responsible and equipped for the challenges of living their faith in the world today.”

Father Medina, a native Spaniard who received his call to the priesthood through the words of St. John Paul II while attending Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day and providentially was sent to serve here, likened the ministry of his parish to a “new Pentecost.”

“There is one Spirit [here], the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ,” he said. “It is the only Spirit that can unify us in a new Pentecost. People were from every country at Pentecost [in the Acts of the Apostles] and yet they heard the apostles speak to them in their own language. We make that present again here on a daily basis. Each of us is from a different corner of the world, but we belong to the same Body of Christ.”

The parish’s anniversary events will highlight the many cultures represented among the congregation by featuring their different foods and music. A Marian pilgrimage in November will honor the parish’s patroness.

“We will have concerts and activities throughout the year,” Father Medina said.

Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate a bilingual Mass with former parishioners who are now priests on June 2 to kick off the anniversary. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will celebrate the anniversary Mass on Aug. 12. Founding parishioners are especially invited to join the current members at the anniversary events and liturgies.

“I … congratulate you on the Christian work of integration, hospitality and evangelization that you do for brothers and sisters from so many different countries, with different languages and cultures,” Archbishop Aquila said in a letter to the parish. “What you are about to undertake is the result of vision, good planning and courage. Your parish is a great witness to the people of Aurora, and thanks to your building efforts, it will serve many more people in the years to come.

“My prayers are with you as you begin this great journey of faith.”

 

QUEEN OF PEACE FAST FACTS

— Sacraments: 6,000 people attend Mass every weekend; 2,000 adults attend faith formation annually; 600 baptisms, 400 First Communions and 350-plus confirmations are conferred annually; 1,200 students attend Religious Education and more than 100 teens participate in youth groups annually; 80 couples a year are prepared for marriage.

— Social Ministry: the soup kitchen, the only one in Aurora, serves 30,000 people a year; Annually, 1,200 mothers and fathers attend parenting classes and 250 people attend English as a Second Language classes; the St. Vincent de Paul Society serves 50 needy families weekly.

— Pro-life: Gabriel House serves more than 300 people and distributes more than 7,000 diapers a month.

— Charisms and Cultural Groups: the parish offers Focolare and the Neocatechumenal Way, violin and matachines classes, an African Catholic society, a Filipino society, and more.

 

QUEEN OF PEACE

To find out more or to donate

Call: 303-364-1056

Online: www.queenofpeace.net

COMING UP: We should have listened to Pope Paul VI

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Happy Humanae Vitae 50th Anniversary!

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s been a whirlwind.  Parties, parades, some great fireworks shows.  Oh, and did you see the Hollywood All-Star Tribute to Pope Paul VI?

OK, maybe not so much.

It’s a shame, really. If everyone had somehow, miraculously, listened to Pope Paul VI back in 1968, the world could be a very different place today.  Heck, we might not even have a need for the #MeToo movement.

Allow me to explain.

Up until the 1960’s, it was pretty universally recognized that sex between people of childbearing age came with the distinct possibility of the aforementioned childbearing.  Birth control methods up to that point were somewhat rudimentary and unreliable.  Procreation was an inherent part of sexual activity — part of its meaning.  So respecting a woman meant not putting her at risk of a pregnancy she wasn’t prepared for.  And she in turn had a clear-cut, universally recognized reason to be indignant if a man was pressuring her.

But The Pill changed all of that.  Young people (and a lot of older people, too) figured that, without that pesky fear of pregnancy, they could indulge in sexual activity whenever, and with whomever, they chose. It would be fun, they thought.  Sex feels good, they thought.  Why not have more of it, with more people, they thought.

And then Pope Paul VI said “no.”  In Humanae Vitae, he essentially said that Pill or no Pill, birth control was still not morally licit.

The young people of the Free Love Generation were not disappointed by this news — only because I would imagine they were too busy making love and not war to notice an obscure, 23-page theological document released by a celibate guy who was way older than 30.

But, had they been smart, they might have paid attention to the following passage from that obscure theological document:

It can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman, and no longer caring about her physical and psychological equilibrium, come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. (HV 17)

Does that sound at all familiar?

The problem came because, as much as the generation of the 1960’s wanted Free Love to really be free, it isn’t.  They figured removing the risk of pregnancy would remove the “strings,” and everybody could just consensually enjoy everybody else’s body with no ramifications.

But there is a saying: “Nature bats last.”  Sexual activity was designed by God, not by us.  And he, in myriad ways, designed it to be a profoundly, deeply, inherently meaningful act that touches the very core of the human psyche and spirit.  Everything about it — physically, chemically, emotionally and spiritually — is built around the fact that it is a profound act of self-giving love that places the couple in the context of entering into and cooperating with him in his most sacred role — as Creator of the miracle that is a new human person. Sex speaks a language, and the possibility of procreation is an essential part of that language.  It says “I give myself to you, and to the new life that may come forth from my gift.”

And as hard as we might try, we can’t change that.

I think women, being the ones who conceive and bear that life, are more naturally sensitive to this meaning.  We can’t always articulate it, but it’s there. And hence, we are more reluctant to play with it carelessly.

When the sexual revolution attempted to sever sexual activity from the possibility of procreation, they were essentially attempting to render sexual activity meaningless.  They were saying “from now on, this is just something we do with our bodies.  It can mean as much or as little as you want it to mean.”

This is wrong on so many levels.  For one, it takes away women’s power.  When we recognized that sex is powerful, meaningful and life-altering, a woman had the backing of her family and her culture in saying “No, I will not place myself or my future children at that risk, and if you don’t respect that, you clearly don’t love me.”

Now, women are more or less on their own in fending off the male sex drive — which, for good or for evil, could probably be considered one of the most powerful forces in the world.  If sex is meaningless, then why in the world would she object?  He wants it, and it might be fun for her too, so why wouldn’t she be nice and acquiesce?

It takes a very strong, very well-formed and dare I say holy young woman to have the courage to say “I believe that God created sex with an inherent meaning, so my final answer is no” and watch him walk out of her life forever.  For the vast majority of young women, who can’t articulate what they inherently sense about the sacredness of their bodies, it’s a lot easier just to go along with the program and try to keep the guy.

And then it moves from acquiescing to keep the boyfriend, to acquiescing to make the powerful man happy so that I can get the job, or keep the job, or get the role in the movie, or whatever.  The world becomes one big quid pro quo arrangement whereby we are expected to trade on our bodies to get what we want or need.

And the woman becomes “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment.”

The hard lesson we should have learned from Humanae Vitae is quite simply that our bodies have meaning, that sexual expression has a meaning, and that God is God and we are not.  And that when we start tinkering around with that meaning, people get hurt.

We should have listened.