‘Denver, Denver, una rivoluzione!’

The awakening of Denver after WYD '93


The festivities kicked off Aug. 11 at Mile High Stadium, where the Holy Father was flown into via helicopter. It wasn’t just a big deal that World Youth Day was happening in Denver; it marked the first World Youth Day ever to be held in the United States, which means it was the pope’s first encounter with the youth of America in this setting.

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford fondly remembers the pope’s visit to the Mile High City. It’s something he never expected to happen and was just as surprised as everybody else when it did during his episcopacy as Archbishop of Denver.

“To see the Holy Father seated in the episcopal chair in the Cathedral — that doesn’t happen very often,” Cardinal Stafford recalled.“I never dreamed that it would happen.”

Pope John Paul II sits on the episcopal chair in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Yet, what many don’t know is that this event that would change the course of American Catholicism came in a time of turmoil for the Church in Denver and America as Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila recalls, who at the time was the Director of the Office of Liturgy of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“The Church was in a period of transition with the implementation of Vatican II, the changes in the Liturgy and other changes. Archbishop Stafford had come in 1986 and the period of experimentation had come to an end. There were some who were resistant to that. There were others who celebrated, and so the church was still somewhat divided,” Archbishop Aquila said.

To see the Holy Father seated in the episcopal chair in the Cathedral — that doesn’t happen very often. I never dreamed that it would happen.”

When WYD came about, the pope invited the faithful to focus on Jesus himself, springing forth a renewed sense of unity in the archdiocese.

“WYD brought a real unity to the clergy and to the faithful of the archdiocese. Part of that was through the various talks that John Paul II gave, his emphasis on an encounter with Christ and his words… It brought in a whole new energy into the Church. There was almost spirit of maintenance, of just keeping things going, and WYD brought in the aspect of a deeper formation, a deeper relationship with Christ, and a deeper living out of the faith in the world,” Archbishop Aquila evoked.

Fertile soil, abundant fruit

The Denver youth responded with an open and generous heart to the Holy Father’s calling. They left quite an impression on Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stafford recalled.

“There were 100,000 young people in the stadium in Denver, and I was standing below him and looked up and there were tears on his face. When he went back to Rome, he was filled with joy and enthusiasm for the people of North America in a way that had not been present before,” Cardinal Stafford said. “When he saw me several months later, it was in a meeting in Rome, and the only thing he said to me was, ‘Ah Denver, Denver, una rivoluzione!

“He was overwhelmed by the mystery of the young people in Denver. They are in love with people, they are in love with God, they are a beautiful people because of that.”

Denver, Colorado, Saturday, August 14, 1993, World Youth Day 1993, Pope John Paul II, Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for pilgrims from each diocese in U.S. and International delegates, James Baca/Denver Catholic Register.

What many Catholics and non-Catholics found impressive about WYD ‘93 was the love, enthusiasm and initiative with which the youth responded to God’s call put forth by the Holy Father.

“I think part of [what made Denver such fertile ground] was the presence of Archbishop Stafford and his real desire for people to come to know Christ and to really be faithful to him and to the teachings of the Church,” Archbishop Aquila said. “When he became Archbishop of Denver, he had a wealth of experience in guiding people in service of the poor and really care for the poor, a deep love for Catholic education and a real support for Catholic schools.

He was overwhelmed by the mystery of the young people in Denver. They are in love with people, they are in love with God, they are a beautiful people because of that.”

“There were initiatives that he had begun that helped people be more receptive to Christ and to the Church.”

A quarter century later, the Archbishop of Denver sees that WYD touched the laity the most, a reality he sees evident in the many new apostolates that sprung out after ’93.

Looking at the next 25 years, he hopes that what began with St. John Paul’s visit to Denver will deepen and expand as the Church goes out to make disciples in society.

“I would hope that the Church would continue to grow and to really go out and witness in her service to the poor, in Catholic education and in our Catholic schools,” Archbishop Aquila concluded. “I would hope to see more active parishes that are truly rooted in going forth and making disciples. That there would be the kind of fire in Denver similar to the early Church, where many lay people would go out and teach others the faith and invite them to encounter Christ.”

Aaron Lambert contributed to this report.

COMING UP: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson