WYD marked a milestone in their lives

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The life and faith of thousands of youth of the time was deeply impacted and transformed by World Youth Day Denver 1993. The fruit of their participation in the event went farther than happy memories. We interviewed four leaders of our Church who were present as a small sample of what the event meant in the lives of the thousands of participants that listened to St. John Paul II say, “The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference… It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.”

Ana Tiscareño
Hispanic leader, Holy Rosary Parish

WYD 1993 helped Ana Tiscareño grow deeper in her faith.

Tiscareño had immigrated from Mexico to Colorado and although she had been baptized Catholic, she had never received much formation in the faith. She received a few invitations to join a protestant church, but something told her she had to remain being Catholic. In this context, she decided to participate in WYD. “There was something, perhaps insignificant to many, that caught my attention [during WYD],” she recalled. “While we were walking through Denver, some people offered us cold water outside of their homes. I still can’t explain why that gesture of kindness touched my heart so deeply.

“Twenty years later, when I was on my second year of Biblical School, I read, ‘And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple. Truly, I say to you, he shall not lose is reward’ (Mat 10:42).”

While we were walking through Denver, some people offered us cold water outside of their homes. I still can’t explain why that gesture of kindness touched my heart so deeply.”

In 2013, Tiscareño had the opportunity to send her daughter to WYD in Brazil. Before saying bye at the airport, the group chaplain celebrated Mass and, in his homily, said, “When you go on pilgrimage, something very special happens: God fills it with so much grace that it manifests itself throughout your life.” When Tiscareño heard this, she felt much joy. “I learned many things [at WYD], among them my desire to know the beauty and truth of my faith. I’m very proud of being Catholic! I love it! I love sharing a little bit of what God has blessed me with,” she said.

Rodolfo José Cárdenas
Journalist, Director of the radio show “Hablemos Hoy”

Rodolfo José Cárdenas covered WYD Denver for Telemundo in 1993.

This Venezuelan journalist covered WYD Denver for Telemundo in 1993. “Our newscast was the only Spanish newscast in local television, so covering the visit of the Supreme Pontiff did not only present a great professional challenge, since we were a very small team and with few resources, but we were also very much aware of the significance of such event for our Hispanic community, Catholic per excellence,” he said.

“The excitement of this opportunity was so great that it made us disregard our technical constrains and we focused on providing all the details of the papal visit to our community,” the journalist recalled. “Being able to offer our Hispanic viewers our own stories with our own images was something that made us feel extremely proud.”

What impacted him the most was “the excitement of all who attended, their religiosity, their Catholic conviction, their joy, the happiness of being part – perhaps – of one of the most important events in their lives.” Cárdenas remembers how impressed he was when he saw there were people not only from the United States, but from all over the world. And he assured that the witness of the youth “was something impressive…Thousands and thousands from all over the world, united in prayer and in one faith.”

The excitement of this opportunity was so great that it made us disregard our technical constrains and we focused on providing all the details of the papal visit to our community.”

Moreover, he said that the access media outlets had “was fantastic,” and that “journalists from all over the world were there.”

Father Felix Medina
Pastor at Queen of Peace Parish

Father Felix Medina felt God speaking to him through Pope John Paul II at WYD 1993.

Felix Medina, a young mathematics student at the University of Salamanca had already been part of previous world youth days in Santiago de Compostela in 1989 and in Czestochowa in 1991.Some of the youth from his community of the Neocatechumenal Way in Spain said to him, “Let’s go to Denver!” and he responded, “Let’s go!” What he remembers the most from the event is St. John Paul II’s homily at Cherry Creek Park, when he swayed them to not be afraid of proclaiming the Gospel.

“John Paul II said that life was under attack, that there was a fight between life and death. I heard for the first time that God was calling me personally, that God was telling me, ‘Be not afraid, it’s not a time to be ashamed of the Gospel.’” From that moment on, he was certain that God was calling him to the priesthood. With time, this vocation was “purified and confirmed,” he said. Then, he was assigned to Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Denver, which was established as one of the first fruits of WYD. Father Medina formed part of the first class of seminarians and was ordained to the priesthood in 2004. “Out of all the places where I could have been sent, now I am right by Cherry Creek, which is about five minutes from my parish. I always pass by there and I remember that moment that changed my life,” the pastor of Queen of Peace Parish concluded.

I heard for the first time that God was calling me personally, that God was telling me, ‘Be not afraid, it’s not a time to be ashamed of the Gospel.’”

Mary Beth Bonacci
Author and speaker

Mary Bonacci was one of the speakers at WYD prior to de arrival of Pope John Paul II at Mile High Stadium Aug. 13, 1993.

The young Mary Bonacci was one of the speakers at WYD prior to de arrival of Pope John Paul II at Mile High Stadium Aug. 13, 1993. “The talk itself was not the highlight,” she said. “The audience was there to see the pope, not me.  I don’t remember what I said in my talk, but I do know that, with such a big stadium and so much of the audience so far away, a lot of people weren’t listening.”

Bonacci remembers how the streets in Denver were filled with youth “wearing Catholic t-shirts, smiling and greeting each other. Everybody was excited to see so many others who were like themselves — Catholics who loved the Holy Father,” she recalled.

“When [John Paul II] arrived in Mile High Stadium that night, I was crying. We were all crying.  It seemed like there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere.  He loved us,” Bonacci said. “And he brought to us a love that was not his own.  It was the love of Christ, radiating through an extraordinarily holy and loving man.”

Although there were other events during WYD, Bonacci admitted that “none was as exciting as that first evening, when we welcomed our beloved Holy Father to Denver.”

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.