A year of mercy, a year of grace

A look back at 2016 in photos

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As soon as it seemed to have begun, 2016 is coming to a close.

Though the consensus from the general population at large is decrying 2016 as the “worst year ever,” it would appear that the opposite is true when it comes to the Catholic community in Denver. This Jubilee Year of Mercy was also one of grace.

From the outpouring of prayer that occurred throughout the year, to the overflowing grace at the first-ever Sealed & Sent, the presence of the Holy Spirit descended upon the archdiocese in spades in 2016.

It wasn’t all good, however; one of the archdiocese’s beloved pastors passed away, and though a hard battle was fought, Proposition 106 passed, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in Colorado.

Even so, our hope and strength is found in the Lord, and he remains faithful. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights of the year. It was certainly one to remember.

The inaugural Sealed & Sent happened May 7 at the Denver Coliseum, filling the stands of the stadium with families and confirmandi representing 15 different parishes of the archdiocese. The event was organized in response to Archbishop Aquila’s Restored Order initiative launched in 2015, and as a result, over 500 candidates were confirmed at the largest confirmation Mass the Archdiocese of Denver had ever seen. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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World Youth Day (WYD) took place in Krakow, Poland, from July 25-31, and the Archdiocese of Denver was well-represented, with upwards of 800 pilgrims attending. The theme for this year’s WYD was taken from the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). During the closing Mass, Pope Francis reminded the young people who represented the global Catholic community: “No one is insignificant. [God] loves all of us with a special love; for him, all of us are important. You are important.” It was also announced that the next WYD would take place in Panama in 2019. (Photo by Fabio Beretta | World Youth Day Krakow 2016 via Flickr)

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The life of St. Joseph’s pastor Father Steven Voss was celebrated Sept. 16 during his funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Father Voss died Sept. 10 after a lifelong bout with cancer. It was sad news to have to bear, but solace was found in the fact that Father Voss touched the lives of countless people during his ministry as a priest; not only because he was eager to remind them how great the love of Christ is, but also because he could genuinely empathize with others encountering struggles in their own lives. “Nothing ever held him back. He was bigger than life,” said Father Voss’ sister Christine of her brother. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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“You belong to the Father,” Archbishop Aquila told Denver’s new Auxiliary Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez during his ordination Mass Nov. 4. After faithfully serving the Archdiocese of Denver for 10 years, Pope Francis announced Aug. 25 that Father Jorge Rodriguez, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Thronton, would be appointed the next auxiliary bishop of Denver. As the former vice rector of St. John Vianney Seminary, Bishop Rodriguez already had a reputation as a beloved priest in the archdiocese, and he accepted his new post with humility and grace. He expressed his gratitude to the congregation at his ordination, saying, “I love you all. You cannot imagine how important you’ve been in my life. The most important gift I have received are the people in the pews.” (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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Pope Francis declared 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy, and as part of it, Holy Doors were designated at several parishes around the archdiocese, including Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Faithful were encouraged to make a pilgrimage to each Holy Door to receive a plenary indulgence, and the archdiocese hosted several Year of Mercy-themed events that were spiritually enriching for those who attended. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

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On March 5, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila led some 1,800 faithful from the archdiocese in a Eucharistic Procession around the Planned Parenthood facility in Stapleton. The goal? To pray for those women who were considering an abortion or who had already one, and for an upholding of the dignity of all life, which begins at conception. It was a powerful witness of Christian love, and managed to become the featured image associated with the location on Google maps. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Sister Damascene thanks congregants and others during a Mass celebrating the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta at St. Joseph’s Parish on Sept. 5, 2016. “She was diminutive in physical stature, she was a giant in her firmness and her vision of life,” Cardinal J. Francis Stafford recalled of Mother, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who was officially canonized as a saint Sept. 4. Her canonization served as an opportunity for many to fondly reminisce on her historic visit to Denver in 1989, when she gifted the archdiocese with her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. “Mother Church has given us Teresa of Calcutta now,” Cardinal Stafford said of her canonization. “A woman who lived in darkness, but lived in that darkness with the light of faith. She’s a model for us, not simply for the darkness, but for the joy.” (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Social media post of the year:
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This simple public service announcement from the Denver Catholic, posted on the eve of the presidential election, totally blew up on Facebook. It was the highest-engaged Facebook post we’ve ever had, garnering a total of 493 likes and 1,755 shares!

COMING UP: How we answered Christ’s knock in 2016

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“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person” at Christmas, Pope St. John Paul II said. Jesus is the Father’s merciful response to humanity, and he continues to knock on every human heart. As we celebrate Christmas and the beginning of 2017, it is the perfect time to lift our hearts in gratitude to the Father for his help in responding to that knock in 2016 and ponder in our hearts how we will do so next year.

As I look back at 2016, I am deeply grateful for the many, many people who have generously responded to Jesus’ call for them. The people of the archdiocese are a real gift to me, and so I would like to give praise to God by recalling some of this past year’s major works of mercy that occurred in the Year of Mercy.

The unborn are close to my heart, so the first area I would like to highlight involves the efforts to protect and support those whose lives are in danger. The Church faithfully stood up in defense of life at its most vulnerable stages by gathering for the March for Life at the Capitol last January. In March, we built on that momentum by gathering close to 2,000 people to process with the Blessed Sacrament around Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. This public witness and our prayers for the unborn are a crucial component of the effort to build a culture of life and reject the throwaway culture in which we live.

Another important aspect of mercy which creates a culture that embraces life is providing material support for mothers in crisis pregnancies. Through Catholic Charities and its launch of the Marisol Health clinics in Lafayette and Denver, we are now able to provide full OB/GYN care for expectant mothers, family care after birth, and in the near future, a place to stay for homeless mothers and their newborns.

Even though the coalition against Proposition 106 was not ultimately successful in convincing our fellow citizens to vote against the measure that legalized doctor-assisted suicide, the Church was faithful in standing up against the culture of death. We can all benefit from seeing this with the outlook of St. Mother Teresa, who said, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” It was truly edifying to see all the yard signs, hear from pastors about their efforts to educate the faithful and the number of people who were positively impacted by the campaign. Going forward, the archdiocese will work to continue to educate people on end-of-life decisions and the care that is available in those trying circumstances.

Pope Francis, through his declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, focused the entire Church on becoming more aware of our need to receive and give mercy. He did this by emphasizing the importance of encountering Jesus, urging priests to make Christ’s mercy through Confession more available, granting indulgences, and encouraging everyone to carry out works of mercy. Many of the priests shared with me that people were returning to Confession after years away from the sacrament. There is truth in the teaching of Jesus, that there is more joy over one repentant sinner than the ninety-nine righteous (Lk. 15:7). As archbishop I tasted that joy, as did the priests hearing confessions.

I was also encouraged to see how people throughout the archdiocese gladly embraced the Jubilee Year, with thousands of people passing through the five holy doors, hundreds going on pilgrimage and countless works of mercy being performed.

In a particular way, our archdiocese focused on the Servant of God Julia Greeley as our model for imitating the mercy of Christ. On December 18, I had the blessing of officially opened Julia’s cause for beatification and canonization. This was a historic event, since it is the first time the archdiocese has begun the process of investigating a person who lived in our midst. Julia’s witness of mercy and selfless charity were evident in her committed service to the poor, bringing them food, clothes, medicine and her loving presence, despite being mistreated and poor herself.

Julia’s life and her dedication to the Sacred Heart, her love for the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, remind me of another knock on the door that the archdiocese experienced in 2016. This past August, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jorge Rodriguez to serve as an auxiliary bishop for our archdiocese. The events surrounding the bishop’s ordination in November made apparent the generosity of the people of northern Colorado. So many of you expressed your love for Bishop Rodriguez and gratitude for the Holy Father’s appointment.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop Rodriguez chose, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” His motto is a reminder to each of us that it is God’s mercy that sustains us and gives us the strength to respond when he calls us to follow him. In the coming year, I ask each of you to pray and reflect on how you will respond to God when he knocks on the door of your heart. Continue my dearest brothers and sisters to grow in the merciful love of the Father! Like the Virgin Mary, may you allow him to enter and give you the grace to follow his call for you.

May God bless you in this Christmas season and fill you with his joy!