Families and apostolates spring from pope’s Denver visit

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This story continues a Denver Catholic Register series celebrating 20 years of faith since the Denver Archdiocese hosted World Youth Day Aug. 11-15, 1993.

It’s hard for some to describe without crying.

World Youth Day in Denver was for many the beginning of the rest of their lives and the impetus for new ministries.

For David and Mary Tschumper, the moment happened at Mile High Stadium Aug. 12, 1993, when the pope landed and emerged from a helicopter to the 90,000 young pilgrims before him anxious to see the man from Rome.

Everyone around them was rocking the stadium with song, dance and shouts. Trumpets blared and Pope John Paul II came to the crowd with an appeal for hope and Christian love.

“It was a feeling it the air, and it was almost electric,” said Mary, who helped chaperone youths from their parish, St. Thomas More in Centennial. She and David just began dating.

“I can remember David being right by me when all of this happened, and we had all these young kids around us. When you’re with someone when something so intense happens, it kind of solidified us.”

A week later, David bent down on one knee and told Mary, “Either break up with me or marry me,” he said. “And she married me.”

World Youth Day was the stage for their call to marriage and their decades-long call to Church ministry.

The couple has four children and both work at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial. David passed his 20-year anniversary as youth minister and has since taken youths to every subsequent World Youth Day.

Denver’s pilgrimage solidified his desire to bring the Gospel message to the modern world.

“That definitely impacted my ministry and why I evangelize,” he said.

Epicenter of new evangelization

Evangelization was on the lips of many after the pope’s Denver visit. His use of the phrase “new evangelization” became the inspiration for many to launch new apostolates and ministries.

“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of life has been put into your hands,” the pope told youths gathered for Mass at Cherry Creek State Park Aug. 15. “And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: ‘Woe to me if I do not evangelize’ (1Cor 9: 16).”

“Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love.”

Since then, the Archdiocese of Denver announced the renaming of its campus to the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization. Denver became the site of budding ministries that grew into national and international initiatives.

FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) was founded in response to the pope’s call. Their goal is to communicate the Gospel to young adults in a dynamic and culturally relevant way by hosting outreach events, Bible studies and mentoring. The organization has grown to include 300 missionaries serving 74 campuses in 30 states.

Likewise, the Augustine Institute graduate school in Greenwood Village began in 2005 to transform Catholics for the new evangelization. Students are trained to proclaim the Gospel with “new ardor, method and expression” based on the pope’s urging.

Many of the founders and now teachers were pilgrims in Denver.

“Many ended up landing here and a part of the mission, and all in many ways felt an inspiration to become part of the Church and work for the building of new evangelization,” said Jim Beckman, who teaches at the Institute. “Only God could orchestrate all the moving parts to bring them to the same place at the same time.”

Days after returning from the Denver pilgrimage, Beckman met his wife with whom he struck up a conversation because she noticed his World Youth Day T-shirt. Beckman eventually came to Denver and became a lecturer and director of youth leadership and evangelization at the Institute.

“In some ways I feel that the Augustine Institute transformed me as a person and what I’m doing as a ministry,” he said.

No coincidence

During the bustle and excitement of World Youth Day 1993, minds were sparked with beginning ideas of spreading the Gospel.

For others still, men and women of the John Paul II generation discovered their call to another way to spread the Gospel: forming a Christian family.

In an interview with the Denver Catholic Register, Inma Alvarez shared the story of how she met her husband, Salvatore.

1993The pair had first met at World Youth Day in Czestochowa, Poland,  in 1991. She came from Spain and he came from Italy.

“We became friends and began to write letters back and forth to each other—then there was no Internet, no Skype, or low cost flights or any of the modern conveniences that we have now,” Inma wrote in Spanish. “I liked him, but a long-distance courtship would not be possible. We could never see each other.”

But they met again.

In 1993, although neither was aware, both traveled toward Denver for the next World Youth Day.

The spiritual experience was intense.

“(The pope) said we should be brave and break with our comfortable lifestyle, and that we had to make Christ known in the large, modern cities,” she said.

The next day, at a gathering of the Neocatechumenal Way, a Vatican approved catechumenate, the two crossed paths.

“And there, when I least expected it, I found … yes, the young Italian who I had met in Czestochowa,” she wrote

2013

. “It was no coincidence, because God does not simply roll the dice with us.”

Today, the couple has seven children and lives in Valencia, Spain.

Their experience continues to sustain their vocation.

“When we have had crises and obstacles, the Denver experience helped us a lot to keep in mind that the vocation to marriage is a call from God, and it is much more than our own human project.”

COMING UP: Vatican II on Catholics in public life

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The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (often referenced by its Latin title, Gaudium et Spes) is typically regarded as the most “progressive” of the 16 documents of Vatican II: the conciliar text that bespoke a new Catholic embrace of modernity while aligning the Church with liberal democratic political forces throughout the world. 

Like every other conciliar document, however, the Pastoral Constitution only comes into clear focus when it’s read through the prism of the council’s two most authoritative texts, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Dei Verbum taught that God really does speak to humanity in history, and that the revelation of God’s intention for humanity, definitively manifest in Jesus Christ, is binding for all time. Lumen Gentium taught that the Church is a “sacrament” or “sign and instrument….of communion with God and unity among all men,” The Church embodies that by heeding the Great Commission: by proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, thus bringing the truth about God and us to the whole world. 

That, according to the two fundamental documents of Vatican II, is the best thing the Church can do for the modern world: evangelize it. Everything else flows from that.

There were to be no exceptions to the scope of the Church’s evangelization. So the council taught that public life, including the tangled world of politics, was a field to be evangelized and thereby revitalized with the leaven of Christian truth. That meant, in the main, lay Catholics working in the public space to promote the dignity of the human person and the common good. 

Gaudium et Spes had a lot to say about the Christian responsibility to contribute to the common good, about which it took a broad view: by the “common good,” Vatican II meant not just a prosperous economy, environmental protections, proper health care, and the legal protection of basic human rights, but the ongoing pursuit of a social order characterized by truth, justice, virtue, solidarity, and mutual responsibility. Meeting that responsibility to advance the common good, the council taught, required Catholics to lead coherent lives. The Pastoral Constitution therefore reminded the people of the Church that “it is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities.” There could be no such shirking, for “by our faith, we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each.”

Thus life in politics, which the council described as a “difficult yet noble art,” ought to be lived as a vocation by Catholics. And there could be no bifurcation in living out that vocation, or indeed any other. “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives.” The prophets of the Old Testament had “vehemently denounced this scandal,” Gaudium et Spes noted, as did Christ himself, who “with greater force threatened it with severe punishment.” There could be no “pernicious opposition” between a Catholic’s “professional and social activity,” on the one hand, and his or her “religious life,” on the other. 

Coherently Catholic public officials, whose faith illuminates the truths that make for human flourishing and who integrate those truths into their political lives, are the Catholics who best reflect the Church’s intention to “establish and consolidate the human community according to the law of God.” Catholics who promote or who refuse to take effective action against grave offenses against human dignity (among which Gaudium et Spes listed abortion, euthanasia, and violations of the human person through mutilation) not only fail to contribute to the common good while doing severe damage to society; they also declare themselves incoherent Catholics, who are, objectively, not in full communion with the Church. 

This is the challenge that the most progressive document of the Second Vatican Council puts today before the President of the United States, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle, and the many other public officials who persist in living a “pernicious opposition” between their “professional activity” and their “religious life.” It is not a partisan challenge. It is not a traditionalist challenge. It is not a politicized challenge. It is Vatican II’s challenge. 

Their fellow-Catholics among the laity have an obligation to bring this challenge of coherence to the attention of these brethren in Christ. So do their pastors.