WYD Panama: Youth accepted the challenge of being God’s influencers

World Youth Day Panama 2019 may have only just concluded, but its fruits are already manifesting. Attendees’ faces reflect the happiness of having experienced a life-changing event.

“It was the best experience of my life”; “It will remain in me forever”; “I left in love with God.” These were just a few of the experiences expressed by some of the 300 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Denver who attended WYD.

Some of these young people stayed in contact with the Denver Catholic throughout the entire trip to share with us their lived experience in Panama.

Thursday, January 24

“How good it is to get together again, this time in a land that receives us with such radiance and warmth! As we gather in Panama, World Youth Day is once more a celebration, a celebration of joy and hope for the whole Church and, for the world, a witness of faith,” said Pope Francis to the youth at the welcome ceremony and opening of World Youth Day that was held at Campo Santa María la Antigua.

The emotion of praising our Father is so strong that we were all together regardless of sex, skin color, accent, cultures, etc.”

The pope reminded the attendees of the importance of unity: “We know that the father of lies, the devil, always prefers people who are divided and quarrelling,” he said. “He is the master of division, and he is afraid of people who have learned to work together. This is a criterion for distinguishing people: those who build bridges and those who build walls. The builders of walls seek to sow fear and make people afraid. But you want to be bridge builders!”

“Pope Francis with his love and affection motivates us, a new generation tired of society’s actions, afraid of becoming adults and becoming part of the problems we now face,” said Daniel Palomino, one of the Colorado pilgrims and parishioners of Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City.

Friday, January 25

WYD pilgrims had a day full of activities, and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodríguez joined attendees from the archdiocese. After the Eucharist, the young people visited the Park of Forgiveness, a park assigned for confessions, where they were received by a group of priests and volunteers who invited the pilgrims to do an examination of conscience and encouraged them with joy at the end of the confession.

“The emotion of praising our Father is so strong that we were all together regardless of sex, skin color, accent, cultures, etc.,” said pilgrim Patricia Gonzalez, parishioner of Queen of Peace parish. “At the Park of Forgiveness, we [were] given the opportunity to visit the vocational fair. There were about 300 religious communities offering information. Hundreds of young people enjoyed this.”

Saturday, January 26

Vigil with the young people. The moments before the meeting with the pope were described by pilgrims as: “Four long hours of waiting, heat, suffocation, panic attacks and/or claustrophobia, and many frustrated and annoyed young people.” However, all of that “disappeared with the first sentence of [Pope Francis’] speech. It suffices only with the breath of God the Father through his faithful servants to bring us peace.”

The pilgrims expressed the emotions they felt to see the pope’s concern for the needs of the Church, the countries and the common home. “He invited us to remain friendly, to be young people who smile and who reflect the love of Jesus. He invited us to transmit the message of unity and peace. He invited us to start a new phase as young Catholics, in which we not only defend our religion but also defend and respect our common home — the house that God gave to us and that we are destroying,” Palomino said.

Pope Francis with his love and affection motivates us, a new generation tired of society’s actions, afraid of becoming adults and becoming part of the problems we now face.”

The pope spoke to the young people in their own language, giving them a speech in which he referred to Mary as the “influencer of God,” referencing Mary’s “yes” to God.

“That was how he surprised Mary and asked her to be part of this love story,” Pope Francis told the youth. “Obviously, the young woman of Nazareth was not part of the ‘social networks’ of the time.  She was not an ‘influencer,’ but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history.”

Sunday, January 27

During the closing Mass, which had an attendance of approximately 700,000, the pope invited the young people to follow Mary’s example of saying “yes” to the mission entrusted to them by God and assured them that Our Lady accompanies them in their journey. This message was very well received by the youth of the Archdiocese of Denver, who, together with the Bishop Rodríguez, returned home more motivated and with a heart burning in faith.

“There is no doubt that Pope Francis knows how to connect with young people. And it is evident that they are ready to accept their challenge of a holy, happy and committed life,” Bishop Rodríguez said. “WYD Panama is proving it! Our young people in Denver have turned this experience into a feast of faith and have renewed their enthusiasm for Pope Francis.”

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.