WYD marked a milestone in their lives

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: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA