At the Heights, everybody becomes your friend

By Topher Aderhold

Topher Aderhold is the Camp Director at Annunciation Heights.

On the feast of the holy archangels, we set off before the sun, beginning our hike at 4 a.m. The moon was bright and the sky was clear, so we turned off our headlamps and walked by the light of the moon. It’s a groggy, but necessary way to begin such an adventure. From time to time, the moon shadows cast by the thick forest made finding our footing a bit of a challenge. But we journeyed on, because there was a mountain ahead of us, and we were determined to reach its summit.

While 14ers are all the rage in Colorado, our sights were set on Mt. Meeker, a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park that rises to the heights of a paltry 13,911 feet. Meeker’s summit is more than two-and-a-half miles above sea level, but because it is 89 feet shy of 14,000, Meeker is overshadowed, figuratively and literally, by Longs Peak. Towering to 14,259 feet, the highly recognizable snaggletooth summit of Longs is only .7 miles away from Meeker.

A couple of hours into our journey, as we stopped for a drink of water and a snack, we glanced back towards the east. The first rays of sun cresting over the far away mountains were painting the sky with glorious reds and oranges. The face of the mountains to our west were illuminated by the rising sun — it was as if the grey rock face was transformed into a massive canvas upon which the vibrant colors of the sunrise were splashed.

As the journey continued, we noticed that the trees were shrinking in size, and before long, there were trees no more. Soon after the sun began to rise, we reached Chasm Lake, a beautiful mountain lake at the base of Longs and Meeker. The scene took my breath away, or perhaps the high elevation was hindering my breathing — either way, I was in awe.

Countless wordsmiths, philosophers, and mountaineers of yesteryear have waxed poetically about what draws man towards the mountains, towards the heights. John Muir wrote about it extensively, and Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Everest, had a thing or two to say as well. I love what Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati said about the mountains: “The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” However, as we left Chasm Lake behind, and the hike turned more into a scramble over perilous rock fields and climbs up vertical rock faces, it was the words of Mon-signor Joseph Bosetti — the founder of Camp St. Malo — that came to mind: “Above 10,000 feet, everybody becomes your friend.”

There’s truth in his words, and Msgr. Bosetti knew well the experience of being above 10,000 feet. He was born and raised in the Italian Alps in the late 1800s, and later, in 1915, as a priest serving in the Archdiocese of Denver, he founded Camp St. Malo. Over the many years he over-saw Camp St. Malo, he led countless campers up to the summits of Twin Sisters, Mt. Meeker, and Longs Peak, just to name a few. Oftentimes, high atop the mountains, Msgr. Bosetti would celebrate Mass for the kids, giving them an opportunity to better hear the voice of Christ.

There were seven of us in our traveling party that day. We began the hike as friends, certainly, but there’s something special about the way such a challenge can bring people together and deepen friendships. We were in this journey together, and together we would reach the summit. The higher and higher we were above 10,000 feet, the more and more support we needed and had for each other.

It took us approximately six hours to reach the summit. For several minutes, we stood atop Meeker’s breezy summit. From such high heights, we soaked up the magnificent view of Rocky Mountain National Park — it was a profound reminder of our smallness compared to the power and magnificence of God.

After taking in the view, we scurried down the mountain, slowly and safely choosing our footing. Arriving back at the trailhead, nearly 12 hours after we’d begun our day, I thought about another challenge before us, a mountain of the figurative variety.

The Archdiocese of Denver recently purchased an old youth camp in Estes Park; an incredible commitment to the future of the Church in northern Colorado. With the help of the archdiocese, our Executive Director, Kyle Mills, has laid out an awesome vision for the bold and exciting mission of Annunciation Heights.

The seven of us, along with a half-a-dozen more, serve with Kyle in various capacities, as we undertake climbing the mountain of transforming this old property into a bright shining beacon of hope and joy for the Archdiocese of Denver. Providentially, Annunciation Heights is located just two miles down the road from Bosetti’s Camp St. Malo, where the stunningly beautiful Chapel on the Rock stands at the base of Mt. Meeker.

Plans for our inaugural Summer Camp, which will be held in 2019, are underway. Between mid-June and late-July, we’ll be offering five, one-week sessions. To serve on our Summer Camp Staff, we’ll be hiring approximately 30 college students — young adults that are fun, outgoing, great with children, and passionate about their Catholic faith. Not just a youth camp, we’re thrilled to be offering several Family Camps in 2019, as well. More details about both of these exciting opportunities will be posted soon to our website.

Already this fall, hundreds of students from Catholic schools have joined us at Annunciation Heights for environmental education retreats through the John Paul II Outdoor Lab. Additionally, over the past couple of months, many guest groups have found Annunciation Heights to be a wonderful place to host events and retreats.

From time to time, the challenge before us can be overwhelming. However, there’s something special about the way such a challenge can deepen friendships and bring people together. We journey on, because there is a mountain ahead of us, and we are determined to reach its summit.

Mary Undoer of Knots, pray for us!

To learn more about AH, please visit: annunciationheights.org

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.