Fifty years of building Christ’s community together at Queen of Peace

Amidst capital campaign, Denver’s most diverse parish source of a ‘new Pentecost’

Roxanne King

Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, while predominately middle to lower income, is the most diverse in the archdiocese and among the busiest.

It is a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees, the poor, and for the average Catholic seeking the sacraments and/or deeper faith formation. This year the parish turns 50, but to continue its service to the congregation and to the wider Catholic and Aurora communities, the church needs to build a new $12.5 million parish center to replace its current outdated and unsafe facility. With $4.6 million pledged since November, a dramatic success given the parishioners income levels, they have nearly reached their $5 million capital campaign goal.

“This is a great accomplishment for this community, which is more than 50 percent immigrant,” said Father Felix Medina, pastor since 2013.  “From the moment I arrived, I have been aware of the urgent need to address the challenge of our great growth in parishioners and our lack of functional facilities to accommodate our many services and groups.”

More than 12,000 people walk through the parish’s doors every week and are served by some 100 different ministries and activities, ranging from Mass (6,000 people attend weekly) and religious education (1,200 students are in religious education); to social ministry, including Aurora’s only soup kitchen, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society, to pro-life apostolates that offer material and spiritual aid to needy mothers, to faith-building charisms and community-building cultural groups.

“The motto for our campaign, Building Christ’s community together, summarizes what our parish has done for thousands of people during these last five decades,” Father Medina said. “The beauty of the Catholic Church, which is for people of every language and color, is manifested here at Queen of Peace.”

In a letter of support for the parish’s building plans, auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez, concurred.

“Queen of Peace is the parish with the most diversity of nations and people in the archdiocese,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God has given to you the responsibility and blessing of welcoming and serving immigrants from all over the world … who are seeking the comfort of God in a new and unknown place.”

“This parish has always welcomed people from outside,” Father Medina explained, noting that initially Queen of Peace served people from across the United States located at three military facilities active in Aurora, just one of which remains.

Aurora, CO – Pastor Father Felix Medina seeks to build a new parish center to bring Denver’s most diverse Catholic church together. (photo by Andrew Wright)

In recent decades, ethnic diversity in the city has swelled, making Aurora a “minority-majority city,” meaning the total population of minority groups is larger than the white, non-Hispanic or Latino groups, according to the city’s 2016 demographic report. In Aurora Public Schools, 130 countries and 166 languages are represented among the student population.

“The new parish center will bring together people from more than 100 nations,” Father Medina said, referring to his congregation’s diversity.

Established on June 12,1968 by Archbishop James Casey, on Sept. 4 that year, Father Frank McCullough, OMI, oversaw a groundbreaking for the first parish structure, which included a 40-seat chapel, rectory and offices. In 1970, a second facility was built, which included a chapel, a gym, meeting rooms and a kitchen. Five years later, as the parish expanded, a 1,200-seat church was built.

In 1987, the Oblates of Mary left and the Denver Archdiocese appointed the first diocesan pastor of the parish, Father Bill Breslin. That same year, Queen of Peace opened a day hospitality center for the homeless at a nearby location. In 1999, Archbishop Charles Chaput dedicated a new church building.

Vince and Dini Zagarella have worshiped at Queen of Peace since 1969, when the parish, consisting of a handful of families, held Mass at the local Seventh Day Adventist Church.

“Their services were on Saturday and ours were on Sunday,” Vince Zagarella recalled with a chuckle.

“We’ve grown from an intimate, fairly affluent parish to a parish of many, many nationalities that is no longer affluent,” added Dini Zagarella.

Transplants from New York, the Zagarellas relish their parish’s diversity. Their three children, who are now grown with families of their own, made their sacraments at Queen of Peace.

“It’s our home,” Dini Zagarella said.

The couple has held various leadership positions in the parish and currently serve as honorary chairs of the capital campaign

“It’s great that we’ve reached almost $5 million, but we need a lot more than that,” Dini Zagarella said. “We just keep praying God will help us.”

The parish determined its center was no longer adequate back in 2005, but an economic downturn and other setbacks forced the congregation to put their hopes for a new parish center on hold. Given the deplorable condition of the current parish center, waiting is no longer an option.

“It is falling apart,” Father Medina said. “There are leaks in the rooms, leaks in the foundation, mold, asbestos, out of code wooden floors. The shingles are falling apart. The old building needs to be torn down and a new one built over it.”

“Eventually, our parish center will be condemned,” Vince Zagarella said. “It’s beyond repair and embarrassing. We had to put good money into stopping the leaks before we even started the capital campaign.”

To cover the total building project cost, the parish plans to augment capital campaign proceeds with savings and building fund monies, a grant, a loan, the possible sale of a property,

and by fundraising among outside sources, such as former parishioners.

“We need outside funds,” Vince Zagarella said.

Aurora, CO – parishioners and the community of Queen of Peace parish (photo by Andrew Wright)

The parish hopes that out of gratitude for its generous service to former parishioners and to the wider community, people may be willing to help the congregation reach their goal as they approach their 50th anniversary. A new parish center is essential to continue the new evangelization at Queen of Peace, the pastor said.

“It will make possible the continued teaching and integrating of so many into our society and into the Church,” Father Medina said, “helping them to be good Catholic citizens of our society—responsible and equipped for the challenges of living their faith in the world today.”

Father Medina, a native Spaniard who received his call to the priesthood through the words of St. John Paul II while attending Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day and providentially was sent to serve here, likened the ministry of his parish to a “new Pentecost.”

“There is one Spirit [here], the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ,” he said. “It is the only Spirit that can unify us in a new Pentecost. People were from every country at Pentecost [in the Acts of the Apostles] and yet they heard the apostles speak to them in their own language. We make that present again here on a daily basis. Each of us is from a different corner of the world, but we belong to the same Body of Christ.”

The parish’s anniversary events will highlight the many cultures represented among the congregation by featuring their different foods and music. A Marian pilgrimage in November will honor the parish’s patroness.

“We will have concerts and activities throughout the year,” Father Medina said.

Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate a bilingual Mass with former parishioners who are now priests on June 2 to kick off the anniversary. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will celebrate the anniversary Mass on Aug. 12. Founding parishioners are especially invited to join the current members at the anniversary events and liturgies.

“I … congratulate you on the Christian work of integration, hospitality and evangelization that you do for brothers and sisters from so many different countries, with different languages and cultures,” Archbishop Aquila said in a letter to the parish. “What you are about to undertake is the result of vision, good planning and courage. Your parish is a great witness to the people of Aurora, and thanks to your building efforts, it will serve many more people in the years to come.

“My prayers are with you as you begin this great journey of faith.”

 

QUEEN OF PEACE FAST FACTS

— Sacraments: 6,000 people attend Mass every weekend; 2,000 adults attend faith formation annually; 600 baptisms, 400 First Communions and 350-plus confirmations are conferred annually; 1,200 students attend Religious Education and more than 100 teens participate in youth groups annually; 80 couples a year are prepared for marriage.

— Social Ministry: the soup kitchen, the only one in Aurora, serves 30,000 people a year; Annually, 1,200 mothers and fathers attend parenting classes and 250 people attend English as a Second Language classes; the St. Vincent de Paul Society serves 50 needy families weekly.

— Pro-life: Gabriel House serves more than 300 people and distributes more than 7,000 diapers a month.

— Charisms and Cultural Groups: the parish offers Focolare and the Neocatechumenal Way, violin and matachines classes, an African Catholic society, a Filipino society, and more.

 

QUEEN OF PEACE

To find out more or to donate

Call: 303-364-1056

Online: www.queenofpeace.net

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.