“I am confident that you have grasped the scale of the challenge that lies before you, and that you will have the wisdom and courage to meet that challenge,” said Blessed John Paul II, at Cherry Creek State Park in 1993. “So much depends on you.”
I’ll never forget those words. Nor will I forget the experience of Blessed John Paul II’s Colorado visit for World Youth Day in 1993. His impact on the Church in Colorado was tremendous and far exceeded expectations. So, too, was his impact on my life.
The message of John Paul II to our nation was a challenge. At World Youth Day, he challenged us to live the Gospel boldly, to transform our nation—to build a culture of life in America. To build a culture at which Jesus Christ is the center.
The message was a personal challenge. John Paul II challenged each of us to holiness, and to true discipleship in Jesus Christ. He challenged us, in his words, his actions, in his very life, to love more radically than we believed possible.
But he also gave the tools to do so. The genius of John Paul II was to ask, on behalf of Jesus Christ, for greatness, and then to show that greatness was a possibility. Consider the impact of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Nothing has more clearly demonstrated to me how much we are made to love as male and female, and how important our love is.
Or consider the witness of John Paul II’s suffering. The suffering of his life in Nazi and Communist Poland. The suffering of being shot in St. Peter’s Square. And, ultimately, the suffering he endured with Parkinson’s. He embraced the cross of Jesus Christ and gave witness to the world of a deep faith in Christ.
His witness revealed to all of us the possibility of holiness. And, at World Youth Day, that witness began a transformation of our diocese, our city and our nation.
Consider the strength of the Church in Denver. Consider the faith and enthusiasm of our priests, deacons, religious and laity. Consider the many lay apostolates, like FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Augustine Institute, and Endow that communicate the faith. Consider the vibrant ecclesial movements that vivify the lives of so many of our faithful and their parishes. And consider the holy families, holy men and women, and holy children that comprise our communities. So much of what we have can be attributed to World Youth Day, and the witness of John Paul II.
Last month, I spent time in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, at World Youth Day with Pope Francis. I suspect his witness—his love for the poor, his simplicity, his pastoral charity, will transform that city as well. It did while he was there and it will certainly continue. And I know that it transformed hearts and minds as I witnessed in the diocesan groups who made the pilgrimage to Rio as well as in the young people I catechized from so many different English speaking countries, including countries where they are persecuted for their faith.
This week, we will celebrate with Mass, hearts filled with gratitude to the Father, the 20th anniversary of World Youth Day in Denver. I pray that you will join us. I pray that together we can give thanks for the great graces God has bestowed on us in Denver. But I also pray that we will continue to take up John Paul II’s words.
We still face great challenges. In fact, in some ways our culture has reached new points in its ongoing embrace of a culture of death. We need to commit to radical discipleship. Fear must not govern our hearts but the fortitude that comes from the Holy Spirit as we encounter Jesus Christ. May the words of John Paul II resonate in our hearts today: “…be not afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”
Twenty years later, “So much depends on you!”
World Youth Day 1993 20th Anniversary Mass
What: 20th anniversary celebration of World Youth Day 1993
When: starts 4 p.m. Aug. 15 with music, testimonies and videos; archbishop to celebrate Mass at 6:30 p.m.
Where: John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver
Who: All are invited
Cost: free; parking available
Questions: call 303-715-3230