Saints come alive at ‘Night at the Cemetery’

Moira Cullings

“Night at the Cemetery” will take place at Mount Olivet in Wheat Ridge Oct. 18 and 25 from 6-8 p.m. for middle school students, and Oct. 20 and 27 from 7-9 p.m. for high school students.

Each night, attendees can expect to see Julia Greeley, Bishop Machebeuf and a few other saints. They will also have the chance to meet a mortician and a gravedigger to learn more about cemeteries in an interactive way.

“Part of it is catechetical, for them to learn about what cemeteries are and what they do,” said John Miller, Outreach Coordinator for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. “But the other part is to meet some of the characters along the way.”

After walking through the cemetery and meeting the holy deceased (played by actors), attendees will ultimately arrive at the Gallagher Chapel where the middle school students will pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the high school students will celebrate Mass.

Miller hopes the event is not only entertaining, but that the students learn more about the Communion of Saints and realize “that the focus, especially in the month of November, is on praying for the dead, but also praying to those who intercede for us in heaven and asking them to pray for us on earth,” he said.

Cemeteries were once places people would gather for picnics and to honor their loved ones, said Miller, but that’s not as popular with today’s culture.

“I always think of how lonely [the graves look],” he said. “You look at some of the markers and headstones of people that have been buried here almost a hundred years or even less than that, and you’re like, ‘I wonder who’s visited over all these years, how many years they haven’t had anyone visit and place a flower or say a prayer for that person at their grave.’”

Miller hopes “Night at the Cemetery” helps young people learn the importance of “honoring the dead, praying for the dead and knowing [cemeteries] are beautiful places,” he said.

“Night at the Cemetery” is free to attend. RSVP by Oct. 15 to John Miller by email at john.miller@archden.org or by phone at (303) 715-2083.

COMING UP: John Paul II, youth minister

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Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyla had a well-developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the 40th anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.

But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II, pied piper of the young, on this ruby anniversary of his election?

1. The big questions remain the same.

Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.

When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Father Wojtyla to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyla was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyla had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyla knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults — What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness? — are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.

To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyla knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.

2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.

Some of the Wojtyla kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose’.” For Karol Wojtyla, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).

3. Heroism is never out of fashion.

When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-20th century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.

That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”

That challenge — that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart — began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.