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Catholic and Aurora communities, the church needs to build a new $12.5 million parish center to replace its current outdated and unsafe facility.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: Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

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Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Lent and the art of fasting

Aaron Lambert

One interesting thing about liturgical seasons in the Church is that despite the fact they happen at roughly the same time every year, they still manage to sneak up on us.

Lent begins in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year. Never mind that most of us are probably just now fully recovered from the craziness of the Christmas season; it’s now time to enter what is arguably the most important season in the liturgical year. Oh, and we’re supposed to be extremely prayerful, reverent and intentional in how we approach Lent. Given all the other things happening in each of our lives, no big deal, right?

Don’t worry — you’re not alone in feeling just a bit overwhelmed at the thought. But let’s take it a step even further and add some icing to that cake in the form of fasting (no pun intended). Fasting is an ancient practice that pre-dates even Christianity and is common to nearly all religions of the world. In fact, the act of fasting is mentioned more times in the Bible than baptism. In recent times, much has been said about the physical benefits of fasting — weight loss, stronger immune system, more effective cell regeneration — but it’s important for us to remember that fasting is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, one that’s meant to spool the thread which connects us to our loving Creator.

Admittedly, the rules for fasting during Lent have loosened up over the centuries; it’s not a stretch to say that in the time of the apostles, fasting was a hardcore thing for disciples of Jesus Christ to do. You see, back then, fasting during Lent meant fasting for all 40 of those days leading up to the feast of Easter. While many of us may tremble at the thought of not eating anything of true sustenance for over five weeks, there is something to be said in the spirit of denying ourselves our usual pleasures during the Lenten season as a way to draw nearer to he who can provide true nourishment and satisfaction.

The act of fasting can help foster in us three characteristics that ultimately make Lent not only a penitential season, but also one of renewal.

Asceticism
The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise and most especially athletic training. Essentially, it is the act of rigorous self-discipline and avoidance of overindulgence, with the aim of instilling in oneself a sense of self-control and virtue. In its most basic form, fasting is a type of asceticism; willingly denying ourselves the everyday comforts of life in an effort to unite our spirits more closely with that of Christ.

Of course, the practice of asceticism is counter-cultural in almost every way. We live in a world where our needs and desires are met on-demand, and to voluntarily abstain from one of these seems a preposterous proposition to the outsider. But it’s interesting, to bring back the Greek root of this word, to think of how the world’s best athletes implement this practice. Think of the intense training, strict dietary restrictions and long hours of work they put in the be the absolute best at what they do. Yes, it’s likely unbearably difficult at times, but they know deep down that their discomfort has a purpose.

Society tells us that suffering and discomfort are bad things to be avoided at all costs. But we as Christians look to the example of our Lord, who was willingly led to his death on Calvary, undertook unspeakable suffering and was made to feel like less than a man. Through his suffering mankind was redeemed, and because of his victory, we, too, can find redemption and renewal in our own trials. By practicing asceticism during Lent and giving up those things we find comfort in — sugar, Netflix, technology, or any other vice — we are not only reminded of the sacrifice Christ made for us, but we are strengthening the muscles of willpower and virtue that lead us closer to the Lord, and ultimately, true joy and peace.

Humility
“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish.”

St. John Vianney is quoted as saying this, and it’s a simple yet effective illustration of how all virtue flows from humility. To use a metaphor, if asceticism is what it is to, say, learn a new instrument, then humility is the marked improvement and mastery of that instrument over time.

By observing the Lenten fast, we are humbled rather quickly. Nothing makes us reflect on our own mortality and brokenness quite like the low grumble of a hungry stomach. And yet, by offering up this minute suffering during Lent and allowing the Lord to take it, it becomes apparent just how much we rely on him to not only provide the various provisions of our life, but also to provide meaning in our various sufferings. Mankind, for all its wonders and brilliance, cannot be sustained without the provisions of God.

From a more practical angle, there’s also no harm in fasting from food and technology to remind us of the many different walks of life people come from. It’s easy to take all the conveniences of our cozy lives for granted but Lent especially presents a great opportunity to remember those “least of us” who live in third-world countries, or even just down the street. Instead of buying two Big Macs for yourself for lunch, why not give one to the woman holding a sign at that intersection?

By maintaining a disposition of humility, we tap into the very core of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Freedom
So, through fasting, you have committed to a practice of asceticism for Lent, are reaping the benefits of staying humble, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Now what?

Ultimately, there is a profound freedom that comes from fasting. Father Richard Simon of Relevant Radio said in a May 2019 episode of his show Father Simon Says, “Fasting is an exercise in freedom. The purpose of it is to train your will to do God’s will. To train your will to obey the Lord. Freedom is the absolute requirement for the Christian life. Most people think that freedom is getting what they want, but they don’t understand that they don’t want what they want, it is their passions controlling them.

“It is their desires, their hungers, their preferences that want what they want when they want it,” he continued. “The self is not free. The self is subject to this sort of barrage off weakened human nature, but fasting is about freedom.”

True freedom, as defined by God, isn’t the ability to say “yes” to your own desires whenever you want — it is the discipline to say yes to the Lord’s desires for you. Therefore, as we go through the Lenten season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, we fast in remembrance of the perfect image of true freedom: Christ crucified on the Cross.

One of the lessons of the Lenten season is that we, too, are capable of achieving this freedom. By strengthening our will through the practice of fasting, we can grow in humility, from which all other virtue flows. In our humility, we find freedom to do the Lord’s will for our lives. And in that freedom, waiting with open arms, is the sweet renewal that our souls yearn for — renewal in the self-denying, humble and freely-given love of Christ.