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 holy Church begins with you

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A holy Church begins with you

Bishop Rodriguez challenges Catholics to realize their call to holiness

Roxanne King

Even as the Catholic Church deals with the disgrace and shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and moves forward with repentance and renewal, it is challenging as faithful not to be disheartened and discouraged.

The answer to this situation is to follow the Scriptural mandate to holiness all Catholic Christians have been given, Denver auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told attendees of the May 17-19 Aspen Catholic conference titled, “The Encounter: New Life in Jesus Christ.”

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘be holy, because I [am] holy,’” the bishop said, quoting I Peter 1:15-16.

“Holiness,” the bishop asserted, “…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

The annual conference, an initiative of Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aspen where the event was held, drew people from the Archdiocese of Denver and from outside the state to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, renew their spirit in the beauty of Colorado’s high country, and return home equipped to better share their faith.

Despite the current crisis, which is evidence the Church is comprised of sinners, every Sunday when professing the Creed, Catholics say, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

“We say publicly that we believe the Catholic Church is holy. Do we mean it?” Bishop Rodriguez mused before affirming: “The Catholic Church, like it or not, will always be holy for three reasons.”

First: “Jesus Christ is the author of holiness and he is the head of the Church. … Jesus is the Church with all of us. The holiness of Jesus fills the whole Church.”

Second: “The Church is the only institution in the world that possesses all the means of sanctification left by Christ for his Church to sanctify its members and to make them holy.”

Third: “There are many, many holy people in the Church, both in heaven and here on earth.”

Holiness…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

Slain STEM School shooting hero Kendrick Castillo is an example of a holy, young Catholic, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“He gave his life for his classmates. If this is not holiness, what is?” the bishop said about the 18-year-old who was killed May 7 when he tackled a teen shooter.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave known for her acts of charity and generosity from her own meager means to others in early Denver, and St. John Paul II, who in emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all Christians beatified and canonized more people than the combined total of his predecessors in the five centuries before him, were among others Bishop Rodriguez mentioned who comprise “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) of those believers who have preceded us into God’s kingdom. Additionally, there are countless “next-door saints,” he said, using a term coined by Pope Francis to describe those unknowns of heroic virtue among our family, friends and neighbors.

Rodriguez said, because the Scriptures say, Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-26).

“‘The Church is holy because it proceeds from God, who is holy,’” the bishop said, quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 2, 2013, general audience address. “’It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.’

“The Catholic Church is and will be holy, even though some of her members still need repentance and conversion,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

Holiness is our deepest longing because we were created to be holy, the bishop said. But the only way to realize that call is to submit to God and allow him to transform us, he said, using the scriptural analogy of clay taking shape in a potter’s hands.

“We cannot deserve, produce, gain, create, or make holiness,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Only God in his gratuitousness and infinite love can make a saint of you. … Holiness is pure gift, is grace.”

Catholics believe holiness is real — that grace received through the sacraments, prayer and reading Scripture, infuses and transforms the believer into a new creation, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“Salvation is real,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis [warns] about a heresy that has been in the Church since apostolic times under different appearances — Gnosticism. It is a doctrine of salvation by knowledge, reducing Christianity to doctrine [or] text, to something intellectual.”

In doing so, Gnosticism loses the flesh of the incarnation and reduces Jesus to his message, Bishop Rodriguez said. Likewise, Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, a major figure of 20th-century biblical studies and liberal Christianity, promoted “demythologizing” the Gospel to attract modern adherents.

As a result, “people lost faith that these things really happened,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “[Bultmann] did tremendous damage to Christianity.”

The Apostles, however, insisted on the truth of Jesus’ incarnational reality, the bishop said, noting the First Letter of St. John proclaims: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you.

Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

“Our Christian faith is not a body of doctrines, not a code of conduct, not an ethical idea, not an elaborated ritual,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “It is not even a community. It is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is an event. It is a person. It is an event that happens. In the Gospel everything begins with an encounter with Jesus. Have we encountered Jesus?”

Jesus may be encountered through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“These are three gifts God has given to us to open us to holiness,” he said. “These are the Catholic ways to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is real.”

Regarding prayer: “The best way to start is to become aware of Jesus presence. … prayer [then] becomes a personal encounter, otherwise it’s an intellectual exercise.”

Regarding Scripture: “It’s not about information … it’s about God telling his love for me.”

Regarding sacraments: “The sacramental life is God touching me with his holiness.

“In the Catholic Church we believe that Jesus Christ didn’t want us to only have a recorded memory of him as in the Scriptures, but a living presence among us. He said: ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you.”

Just as Jesus was present with the people of Galilee healing and forgiving them, so he is present with us today through the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“That’s why he instituted the sacraments. Each sacrament is a merciful and sweet touch of Jesus in our lives,” the bishop said. “This is what we mean when we say he makes us holy through the sacraments.”

So why isn’t there more holiness in our lives and more saints in the Church?

“God wants to work with our clay … but to make a saint is a question of love,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Love cannot be imposed, it cannot be mandated.”

Rather, one must cooperate with God’s grace to become the saint God desires.

“Last March, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on our call to be holy, Rejoice and Be Glad,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “His thesis is that we have been made for happiness, and true happiness and joy only comes from a holy life.”

Holiness doesn’t mean perfection, performing miracles or that we are not tempted, Bishop Rodriguez said. Rather, it means loving God and one’s neighbor by doing the everyday tasks of life with love.

The answer for times of persecution and crisis in the Church has always been the holiness of the people of God, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you,” he challenged.

“This is our response to the Church crisis today: holy Catholic men and women,” he asserted. “We will never give up and we will fight against discouragement and loss of hope. Jesus is with us as he promised.”

Featured image by Roxanne King