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.
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.
The 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
. “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.”