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

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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: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.