Embrace the ‘good news of great joy’

Archbishop Aquila

“Do not be afraid … I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). The angels announced to the stunned shepherds, as they proclaimed the fulfillment of God’s promise to the people of Israel.

It’s worth noting that the angels appeared to the shepherds at night, when they would have been on guard against the dangers of predators looking for their sheep. Likewise, when the magi arrived to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews, they first encountered Herod, who later massacred the children of Bethlehem out of fear that a challenger to his throne had been born. Eventually, the threat of Herod’s wrath drove Mary and Joseph into hiding in Egypt, only to return to Nazareth when Herod had died.

With the passing of the centuries, it can be easy to recast Christmas as a time of utter peace and tranquility and forget the turmoil into which Jesus was born. In a way, this is comforting as we reflect on the state of the world and the Church today. Certainly, there is great uncertainty and moral poverty in many places. And yet, Christ’s birth is even more joyous because of the dark surroundings.

This past year has been both blessed and challenging for the Church.

We had the privilege of celebrating the 25th anniversary of World Youth Day in Denver on August 11th and the beginning of the More Than You Realize discipleship initiative. The archdiocese also closed the local phase of the Cause for the Canonization of Julia Greeley, completed the construction of the Prophet Elijah House for retired priests and opened the Annunciation Heights youth and family camp.

On the other hand, the Church and the archdiocese have been dealing with the Archbishop McCarrick scandal and the fact that some bishops covered up the sexual abuse of minors. At the same time, the broader culture has also become increasingly hostile to faith, while becoming more accepting of beliefs and activities that are contrary to our faith. This can be seen in the aggressive advancement of gender ideology, the abandonment of the common good in favor of a more tribal and divided society, and the willingness of many to cast aside the unborn, the immigrant, or the elderly.

It is this world — one that is both broken and dark yet filled with the potential for great good — that needs to hear the proclamation of the angels at Christmas: “Do not be afraid … I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.”

We all need saving, which is clear from the fallen state of us all. It is truly good news that Jesus was born and continues to come to us in each Eucharist and the other sacraments. His sacrificial outpouring of love for us should cause us to boldly trust in his love and provision for us as we seek to build up the kingdom in our life.

Let us make our own the words of Pope St. Leo the Great as he preached about Christmas. “Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.”

May you and your family’s celebration of Christ’s birth be one that fills you with hope, joy and peace, so that the world can experience through your works of mercy and love the good news of salvation in him. In the midst of the darkness around us, may we the bring the light and joy of the Gospel to each person we encounter!

Celebrate Life March

As we look forward to the new year, I invite you to join me in celebrating the gift of life and salvation through your prayer and lived example.

One specific way you can do this is to participate in the Celebrate Life March on January 12th at 1:00 p.m. at the State Capitol. This will be preceded by a Mass at the Cathedral at 11:30 a.m.

For more info visit:

respectlifedenver.org.

COMING UP: Working to make our schools safer

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By Carol Nesbitt

The issue of school safety is always on the minds of parents. Parents want to know that schools have a plan in place for all types of emergencies, from fires to intruders to staff or students feeling unsafe for various reasons.
The Archdiocese of Denver is excited to share that they now have someone directly supporting the safety preparedness and plans of the 37 Catholic schools under its watch and care.

Matt Montgomery is a former police officer and award-winning school resource officer (SRO). He’s also a chemistry and forensic science teacher as well as Director of Security and Safety at Holy Family High School. And, as of Nov. 13, he is the new Interim Director of Schools Security and Safety for the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The position is new and the first of its kind for the Archdiocese of Denver, but important.

“As a Catholic school community we believe the safety and wellbeing of our students comes first. Time and again we hear our parents rate school safety as one of the top reasons why they entrust the care and formation of their children to our schools. As such, we believe we have a duty and moral obligation in our schools to ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure our children are safe from any type of harm,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “Historically, each of our schools has had to take on the crucial task of defining and implementing their own safety and security plans and systems. While our schools have certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of their school community, we believe it is critical in our current reality that we provide our schools with the expertise and qualifications of someone like Matt to support them in really analyzing their plans and assisting them in ensuring best practices are being implemented. It’s the least we can do for our school communities.”

“My role is really to lead a task force with the intention of identifying needs around school safety,” said Montgomery. He says there are a number of great models for school safety around the area, so it’s more about bringing it all together. “All public schools have someone overseeing safety and security, usually with staff members doing threat assessments, suicide assessments and emergency drills, building security, fire drills, and those kinds of things, but there really isn’t a position like this in other dioceses that we are aware of.”

Montgomery says that his job will be taking the variety of practices at schools and helping to bring consistency in efforts across the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic School community. He also says that the term ‘school safety’ is more broad than people realize. “When people think about school safety, they always gravitate to school shootings, but I think we really have to step away from that and realize that school safety and security is an umbrella. It encompasses everything from events prior to an incident all the way through recovery (post-incident).”

The five areas Montgomery is focusing on include:

Prevention
What do we do to create a loving and responsive Catholic community where students and staff feel safe and are empowered and given resources to report any behaviors or activity that is unsafe and counter to our values?

Protection
What systems and proceses do we have to vigilantly monitor for behavior or activity that is harmful to our Catholic community?

Mitigation
What procedures and policies are in place to mitigate issues?

Response
If an incident occurs, how do we respond to that incident? How do we support that school from an archdiocesan perspective? What tools are we able to provide to that school? What relationships do we have with law enforcement and first responders in that community?

Recovery
Recovery begins the second an incident occurs. How do we reunite students with families, provide counseling support and address staff issues in the case of a crisis?

Montgomery says his work will also help establish a plan for the archdiocese in the case of a larger emergency.

“What is our incident command structure going to look like so that we can respond to an incident, while also keeping in mind the unique structure of the various schools beneath the Office of Catholic Schools?”

He’d like to see the Standard Response Protocol — created by the I Love You Guys Foundation — used throughout the school system.

“One of the issues I noticed is that there are a lot of different agencies who respond to various incidents and they don’t know what the other ones are doing,” Montgomery said. “The crisis plan needs to be uniform, created for a specific age group. We need to standardize our crisis plans throughout the AoD and work with the schools to create private plans for each school that is specific to that school, simple plans that outline for administration on how they implement the plan at the moment of crisis.”

One of the biggest things Montgomery will be doing is identifying policies and procedures and training. “This is uniformly saying ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it, and these are the amount of times we will practice it each year.’” This also includes training of staff on mandatory reporting, the importance of documenting things, and threat assessments that ask the right questions to get a non-biased, vetted approach to assessing threats. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the chance of someone being hurt at a school. That’s by good training, good policies and procedures, and hardening our targets, meaning the physical security of our school buildings,” said Montgomery.

As a teacher, Montgomery says he has a unique perspective. “I’m not just some cop or just an SRO. My heart is in the classroom. I’m a Catholic educator who used to be a cop. My goal is to make sure kids can focus on being a kid and learning, not having to worry about being hurt at school or being bullied or having thoughts of suicide. I want them to feel that school is a safe place. That’s why I do it. I really love doing school safety.”