This article by David Myers was originally published in the Aug. 18, 1993 issue of the Denver Catholic Register.
The Spirit of Christ rocked Denver Aug. 11 as between 100,000 to 150,000 of the world’s youth and young adults gathered at Celebration Plaza for the official opening of World Youth Day ’93.
It had been an uphill climb for many of the young people who, a year-and-a-half ago, began working extra jobs, holding fund raisers and saving every penny to come to Denver.
It wasn’t a rock concert, a sports event or the souvenirs that drew them to Colorado, but simply the desire to grow closer to Jesus Christ via other youth of the world.
It was a Wednesday in Colorado August, temperatures reached into the 90′ s, a brief shower relieved, but sent scurrying several thousand pilgrims, and a cool breeze occasionally wafted mercifully by.
Youth played in the park fountain adjacent to Colfax Street, local TV anchors prepared for their afternoon coverage, and the most common question, “Where ya’ from?” could be heard every few seconds.
McDonalds and souvenir stands lined the street between the park and the Civic Center. People held signs saying “Pins – $5,” while others sat yelling, “last chance for banners. Get your banners!”
Though an obvious black eye to the spirit of World Youth Day, the excess in commercialism wasn’t nearly enough to spoil the mood of the spiritually energized crowd.
Philip Avante, then 19, was one of three representatives from the Archdiocese of Denver who was in Rome and listened as Pope John Paul II announced that Denver would be the host city for World Youth Day.
It will bring young people closer to the Church and to each other. Hopefully it will bring some peace into the world.”
On opening day, he was on a stage performing native dances with the Filipino Christian Community of Colorado.
“We plan for 16 months and it comes down to this week,” Avante reflected. “It’s great having it come together.”
Avante has been with the dancers, who perform on special occasions, for two years.
“This experience will help to unite youth of different races,” he said.
St. Peter Claver
Jim Young, a 17-year-old from St. Peter Claver Parish in Baltimore, was sitting with several friends just yards away from where Archbishop J. Francis Stafford announced in April of 1992 that Denver was to be the pilgrimage site.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the pope and youth who share the same ideas,” he explained.
“Hopefully, it will get more people involved instead of sitting and watching it happen.”
Young, the president of the Catholic Youth Organization at his parish, came, like many, with the hopes of meeting the Holy Father and enriching his faith in God.
A small group of nuns who belong to the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate stood watching the varying cultural song and dance performances on a stage at Celebration Plaza.
Sister Maria Marie and the others came to Denver from their home in the Bronx to celebrate youth and the Church.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I’ve never experienced with youth such joy and enthusiasm in great numbers.”
The Parish Visitors mission includes door to door evangelization and outreach to Catholic families.
“(World Youth Day) builds unity of Catholic people throughout the world,” Sister Maria commented. “They are strong, vibrant and in big numbers.
“We have to impress on youth that we are one body.”
“One of the reasons we came here is because we think America doesn’t know enough about Croatia,” said Vlaho Kojakovic, a 19-year-old student of economics in Croatia.
“We have one-half million refugees, the economy is a catastrophe and there is little food.
“Today, we are showing the world that we are Catholic,” he added. “We don’t want to fight; we just want peace.”
It’s unbelievable. I’ve never experienced with youth such joy and enthusiasm in great numbers.”
Kojakovic, who arrived with a small contingent from his native country, said that every day the Catholic Church in his home town of Kutina is filled with the faithful, many of them young people.
“The pope is a friend to Croatia,” he commented. “We need his help because we are out of strength.
“We love Denver. You are a wonderful people. Please pray for peace in Croatia.”
Keys locked in car
As Native American dancers performed on stage, Jane Hernandez sat watching, thankful and a bit surprised that she made it at all from her home in Wichita, KS.
“We stopped for pizza in Limon and locked our keys in the car,” she explained. “For two hours, the police helped us.
“This is a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It will bring young people closer to the Church and to each other. Hopefully it will bring some peace into the world.
“There is so much hatred.”
The day’s end
Following the 7:30 p.m. opening Mass celebrated by Archbishop Stafford, nearly 150,000 young people headed to their buses and housing sites, many walking miles to get there.
People yelled and cheered as they paraded their various directions, tired, but anticipating the blessings that tomorrow would bring.