‘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: Denver mayor surprises Catholic school students for Black History Month presentation

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On Monday, February 24, Christ the King Roman Catholic School in Denver held their first Black History Month celebration, and among the special guests was the Denver’s own Mayor Michael Hancock.

The celebration began with the surprise visit of Mayor Hancock, who addressed the students and spoke about the importance of the African American community in our society and remembered those who have made history and impacted our lives.

“I want us all to remember very clearly that this world, our society, has been created by so many people of different colors, races, religions, and we all depend on one another,” Mayor Hancock told the crowd. “Even when we don’t think about it, we’re depending on the inventions and discoveries of people who don’t look like us…Black history Month should also be about celebrating the cultures of history of all people that made this society great.”

After the Mayor’s speech, Kateri Williams, Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry at the Archdiocese of Denver shared her testimony about how she was born and raised Catholic and the impact her faith has had throughout her life.

Mayor Michael Hancock surprised students at Christ the King Catholic School, in Denver Feb. 24 during a presentation on Black History Month. (Photos by Brandon Ortega)

“It’s important that we don’t celebrate in just the month of February or Black Catholic History Month in November, but throughout the entire year,” Williams said. “It’s also important to remember, as Pope Francis has shared, that unity and diversity is something we should have a joyful celebration about. It’s not our differences that we should be focused on, but our unity in our Lord Jesus Christ, that brings us all together and we should bring all of those gifts from all of our ethnic communities together as the one universal Catholic Church.”

As part of the Black History Month celebration at Christ The King, the school held several events during the entire week of February 24, including a basketball game to honor the athlete Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed with seven others in a helicopter accident back in January. Before the fatal crash, Bryant, a Catholic, was seen praying at his local parish.

“The purpose is to bring focus to the contribution that the Catholic Church has [had] with black history,” said Sandra Moss, Teachers and Preschool Assistant at Christ the King Catholic School. “I want students to know Black history is American history. It’s not just about the color of your skin. It’s not about the negativity that is occurring everywhere in the world. I wanted them to see the good side of it… Black history is American history.”