Archbishop Aquila, clergy and faithful express gratitude for Archbishop Chaput

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For Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and many Colorado clergy and lay members, the deep influence that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput exerted during his time as Archbishop of Denver is still present in the many personal relationships he made and the numerous initiatives that came to fruition during his tenure. As his 31 years of episcopal service came to a close with his recent retirement, the image of the man who shepherded the Archdiocese of Denver from 1997 to 2011 can be best described by those who were closest to him.

“I am extraordinarily grateful to Archbishop Chaput for all the years of loving service and guidance he provided to the Archdiocese of Denver,” Archbishop Aquila said. “His deep faith and love for the Lord and for the Church was evident in all his decisions, and most especially in his decision to move forward with the establishment of St. John Vianney Seminary, to support so many of the lay apostolates, and to bring new religious orders to the archdiocese. As a priest, it was a joy to serve with him and work on so many different projects that furthered the new evangelization.”

“With his retirement as an archbishop, it’s only fitting that we pay tribute to his impact on the faithful of our archdiocese and the Church in the United States.”

Monsignor Thomas Fryar, pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, spent much time with, and served in various roles under, Archbishop Chaput. He especially admires the sense of fatherly presence the archbishop had to his flock, which was reflected by the fact that people knew they could often find him celebrating the Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral.

“He would not only try to be available for them at Sunday Mass, but he would stay at the back of the church greeting people – and sometimes that would take almost as long as the mass,” he said.

By this simple gesture, he made a deep impact on the lives of numerous lay people, according to Eric Zellweger, current chair of the archdiocesan finance council. That was precisely how he met the prelate.

Photos by Catholic News Agency

One Sunday after Mass at the Cathedral, when Zellweger was in his 20s, archbishop noticed he was new and invited him to lunch. “We ended up having lunch and playing racquetball,” Zellweger recalled.

Nonetheless, in spite of the archbishop reaching out to him, Zellweger said he was still lukewarm in his faith and fell away for a period of time. It would take a few years to recover his faith and contact Archbishop Chaput again.

Once he called the archbishop and told him his story, Zellweger said that the mercy and love he received from Chaput further increased his desire to grow closer to Christ.

“He’s very saint-like, very warm, open, and merciful – yet he never compromises the teachings of our faith,” Zellweger said. “That’s what really drew me to reach out to him. I felt that warmth, that truth and that beauty that he always conveys to everyone that he meets. He’s very authentic.”

Dr. Mario Chavez’s story is another example of Archbishop Chaput’s personal pastoral care.

Dr. Chavez also met the prelate after Sunday Mass at the Cathedral. They had a brief conversation about a trip Chavez would be making to Europe. Six months later, archbishop saw him again and said to him, “You’re back from your trip! What was your favorite part?”

For Dr. Chavez, the archbishop’s exceptional memory was a result of his “genuine interest in people,” a quality that impressed him.

One day after going out for breakfast and inviting him to the visit the seminary, the archbishop asked him if he had ever thought about the priesthood. To the archbishop’s surprise, Chavez told him he wasn’t Catholic – he attended  Mass because his girlfriend was a member of the cathedral choir.

“At that point, he took me to the [seminary chapel] and showed me the stained glass and explained the story to me. From that time forward, he started meeting with me on a biweekly basis and took me through the Catechism and Scripture and formed me in my faith,” Dr. Chavez recalled. “I was under spiritual direction with him for two to three years and cultivated a good friendship… Growing up I never had a father, so he became a lot like a father figure to me… He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever met.”

Many of the priests who were seminarians during Archbishop Chaput’s time in Denver are also grateful for his closeness and fatherly care.

“I remember that fatherly leadership that he provided not only me, but so many others,” said Father Samuel Morehead, pastor at All Souls Parish, who spent his seminarian years under the archbishop. “I have memories of him coming to speak candidly, to lead the men in the seminary as a father, answering our questions, engaging us in meaningful dialogue.”

This openness was also evidenced by the fact that anybody could send him an email and receive a response “within record time,” the priest assured. “That really made you feel like he was in your life and engaging you.”

Among Archbishop Chaput’s great legacies as Archbishop of Denver, people will not hesitate to highlight the many apostolates and initiatives he supported and encouraged, some of which include the Augustine Institute, FOCUS, Endow and Centro San Juan Diego.

For Msgr. Fryar, Archbishop Chaput’s role in the growth of both Saint John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater seminaries was pivotal, and believes it became “a model in the whole United States [for] its strong formation presence.”

Father Morehead believes it was the work that Archbishop Chaput dedicated to the seminaries that advanced so many other apostolates in the archdiocese.

“[Some of these ministries] came to light because we had the right people here at the right time in the faculty at the seminary. It was a ripple effect of goodness,” he assured, a goodness that came from his disposition to the Holy Spirit.

“I was always inspired with his openness to trust in his work of the Holy Spirit to stir up holy initiatives in the life of the Church,” Father Morehead continued.

Archbishop Chaput’s work is thus fondly remembered by many people who were positively influenced by his “pastor’s touch,” “simplicity” and “courage.”

“He’s obviously a man of great conviction and confidence, but I think what might not come out so much in his public columns and in how he can be attacked… is his immense humility,” Zellweger said. “I remember him saying once to me: ‘People try to paint me as a conservative or a liberal based on my views… but I am just trying to teach the Gospel and live the Gospel authentically.’”

“As archbishop, I believe he was and is still a man of utter integrity. I believe he is honest and forthright, and passionately loves Jesus and his Church,” Father Morehead concluded. “And while being always a man of mercy, compassion and a good pastor to his people, I’ve also admired his ability to stand up for what he believes and knows to be the truth.”

COMING UP: Full transcript of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing amid coronavirus pandemic

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Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Ordi blessing delivered on March 27, during which he prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Featured image: Vatican Media