Because of You: A foundation for mission

This is the first part of a series of articles showcasing the many ways the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal enables and furthers the divinely-instated mission of the Archdiocese of Denver.

In this Year of Mercy, the time is approaching when Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila appears on TV and projector screens in parishes across Northern Colorado and introduces the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal (ACA).

The theme for this year’s ACA is “Because of You,” a simple way of saying that none of the ministry and work carried out each year by the Archdiocese of Denver would be possible without the faithful of Northern Colorado and those who generously give to the ACA.

“God has put in our hearts a desire to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy. When we do not have opportunities to do them, we can connect to the works others are doing by making a donation,” said Father Randy Dollins, vicar general of the archdiocese. “‘Because of you’ reminds us that even though we might not be the person directly performing the work, it would not be possible were it not for the donations that support the existence of the ministry in the first place.”

There are a lot of moving parts in the Archdiocese of Denver that allow for it do to the work it does on a daily basis. Parishes play an integral role in the mission of the archdiocese, and are a part of a bigger structural system in place that lays the foundation for the mission to happen, one that wouldn’t exist without the ACA.

Strong foundations

The offices that make up the Pastoral Center are referred to as the Archbishop’s Curia, and their mission is as such: to assist the archbishop in the administration of the archdiocese, communicate his vision, support his pastors and personnel, and bear witness to Christ and the Church’s teachings through a lived example. 

Father Dollins is the moderator of the Curia, and he said that the work done by the offices Pastoral Center is the unseen part of ministry.

“The work that’s being done by the Pastoral Center supported by the ACA forms a foundation underneath the building where all the ministry can happen,” Father Dollins said. “The ministry doesn’t just happen without all of these other support structures.”

The work of the Pastoral Center and all of the support provided to parishes is made possible each year through the Archbishop's Catholic Appeal. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic)

The work of the Pastoral Center and all of the support provided to parishes is made possible each year through the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic)

Father Dollins also said that the Pastoral Center and all of its teams and offices are here to support all 109 parishes in the diocese.

“Parishes have a much bigger staff available to them than they do at their own parishes,” he said.

The ways in which the Curia supports parishes are many, Father Dollins said. For example, the Human Resources department at the Pastoral Center helps parishes with their own human resources operations, training business managers and creating hiring and screening procedures for all parishes to use.

Connections and community

With the recognition that parish communications are integral to the churches health and mission, the Office of Communications at the Curia launched the Denver Parish Connect initiative. Today, 73 separate parishes or archdiocesan ministries have taken advantage of one or more of these services. The Office of Communications offers free digital tools, on-site training to parishes, points parishes to free resources, and helps parish staff adopt best practices from others who may be very effective in a particular area.

To introduce this initiative, two free training sessions were held for staff from 41 different parishes at the Saint John Paul II Center. A highlight of the Denver Parish Connect initiative has been the widespread adoption of Flocknote which allows pastors and parish staff the ability to text or send digital newsletters to their communities. Additionally, other parishes have websites or newsletters for the first time.

Many parishes have reported having clear and reliable channels for the first time. “We’re making people feel like they’re truly welcome because we’re meeting people where they’re at by showing up on a text message or in their email,” said Sarah Johnson, communication coordinator for St. Vincent and St. Mary of the Crown parishes in Carbondale. “It’s a great tool in our toolbox to allow us to better build community and make people feel like they are included and invited to be a part of our parish community.”

“These least brothers of mine”

Another manner in which the Curia supports parishes is through its various ministries. One of the most crucial of these is the Office of Hispanic Ministries and Centro San Juan Diego, headed by executive director Luis Alvarez. Latinos account for more than half of those in the pews in the archdiocese, and the goal of these two entities is to integrate the Latino population more fully into not only the life of the Church, but also society as a whole.

“‘Because of you’ reminds us that even though we might not be the person directly performing the work, it would not be possible were it not for the donations that support the existence of the ministry in the first place.”

Alvarez cites Matthew 25:40 as the basis for his office’s ministry, in which Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“We are serving a portion of the population who, in many senses, qualifies as the ‘the least’ because they’re strangers in a strange land,” Alvarez said. “The Office of Hispanic Ministries and Centro San Juan Diego help the archbishop live out his mission for this portion of his flock.”

Centro San Juan Diego is home to many classes, courses and ministries for Latinos. They offer everything from accredited college degrees to faith formation classes to family ministry certifications. Last year, they also helped to make all Natural Family Planning methods available in Spanish for parishes and marriage preparation instructors to use. 

Though Centro San Juan Diego is where a lot of the ministries and classes happen, it doesn’t all happen there, Alvarez said. The Office of Hispanic Ministries makes a point to go to parishes and offer training there, and Alvarez often meets with pastors and collaborates with them to address any needs they may have when it comes to their own Hispanic ministries.

“The people contributing to the ACA are helping to reach out to these people who otherwise might not be tended to,” Alvarez said.

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COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.