Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
November 26, 2001
Cardinal still hears how youth were moved at Denver
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — It's been eight years since Cardinal Francis Stafford was archbishop of Denver during World Youth Day. But people still want to talk to him about that week in August 1993.
"Everywhere I go in the world, people know I was archbishop in Denver and they tell me how transforming it was," he told the WCR.
Stafford now hangs his hat in the Vatican where he serves as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the department that oversees WYD. He was in Edmonton during the visit of the Pilgrim Cross as part of a 10-day Canadian tour in preparation for WYD 2002 in Toronto.
In Denver, the Church expected no more than 60,000 young people to attend WYD. Instead, for the final Mass with Pope John Paul, 500,000 showed up.
It was a watershed moment.
"The 1993 World Youth Day showed that young people of the West were anxious to hear about Christ and his good news and we had not expected that."
Stafford said WYD taught him three things.
"First, that the Holy Father has an immense attraction for young people, not only in Eastern countries, but throughout the world, including North America."
He also learned that the bishops had to say something to young people about the direction of their lives. And he learned that young people would listen when the bishops speak.
"It also revealed another side of the Catholic Church that the press and other media were suppressing" - that the hundreds of thousands of young people in Denver didn't oppose the teachings of the Church the way the media were expecting them to.
"The media can no longer present dissent as a monolithic element in the Church that is opposed by the bishops."
Lay people are fully supportive of the Church's self-understanding as expressed by the First and Second Vatican Councils, said the cardinal.
The Denver WYD has revolutionized youth ministry in the American Church, Stafford said. Bishops fully support youth ministry and give it good financial support.
It has also born other fruits.
The Denver Archdiocese now has 80 men studying for the priesthood whereas previously it had only a fraction of that, he said. And while Sunday Mass attendance had been in decline since 1968, since 1993 it has been increasing. Further, the Church in the archdiocese has become open to new ways of evangelizing, including lay evangelization.
Similar fruits can be seen throughout the United States, Stafford said.
And finally, bishops, priests and lay leaders of the Church have studied the pope's pastoral vision with greater thoroughness, he said. "They have studied more deeply his teaching and found it very adapted to the modern and post-modern periods."
Without the Denver WYD, Stafford speculates, the similar excitement shown for World Youth Day in Paris in 1997 and in Toronto next year probably never would have materialized.
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