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: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash