World Youth Day: promise of a bountiful harvest

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

I'm writing this column as I get ready to leave for World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. By the time you read it, the celebration will be underway. Many of our young people from Colorado will take part. It's a good moment for gratitude.

Reporters sometimes ask me what World Youth Day "does" for a diocese. More specifically, what did it "do" for Denver in 1993? After all, people arrive, they celebrate - and then they leave. Emotional highs never last, including religious ones. Even Peter, James and John had to go back down the mountain to work after the Transfiguration. And so the skeptics turn to statistics: baptisms, Mass attendance, contributions, vocations. Do they go up after World Youth Day? Down? By how much, and for how long? And so on. You get the idea.


These are natural questions. Americans like statistics. We look for things we can quantify to judge whether an event succeeds or fails. But with World Youth Day, numbers never tell the story. Outsiders tend to think of these gatherings as a fireworks display - a few days of very entertaining light that quickly fades to black when the noise stops. That's exactly the wrong image. World Youth Day is a seed, and like a seed, it doesn't grow overnight. It takes time. But if the soil is good, so is the harvest.

In the months after World Youth Day 1993, no miraculous surge in faith occurred here in Denver - at least not in way that garnered many headlines. But looking back nine years later, the Church in northern Colorado is dramatically different. God's done extraordinary things in the lives of our people, and the evidence is all around us in our parishes, our schools, and in our seminaries, which are literally running out of room for candidates.

I said "seminaries," not seminary, for a reason. We have two seminaries for the Archdiocese of Denver, and both are very much part of the renewal that began here after World Youth Day. St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, which opened in 1999, has one of the finest faculties and many of the finest seminarians in the country. But they're not alone.

Just a few dozen yards away, the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, which began in 1996, is forming an equally extraordinary group of young men from around the world for priestly service in our archdiocese. Their zeal for God's word - a mark of the Neocatechumenal Way - is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church, not just locally but globally.

The Neocatechumenal Way received final approval for its rule of life just last month from the Holy See. That great moment of joy confirmed nearly 40 years of international growth for the Way, and years of fruitful evangelizing by the Way here in Colorado as well.

But over the past nine years, the Way is just one of many wonderful renewal communities and movements that have found a home or deepened their presence in Denver -- the Christian Life Movement, the Community of the Beatitudes, the Marian Community of Reconciliation, along with Cursillo, the charismatic renewal, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and others. All of them root themselves in Vatican II. All of them have helped the faith flourish here in the Rockies. And all of them, for our local Church, are part of the legacy of World Youth Day.

So when reporters ask me what World Youth Day 2002 will "do" for the Church in Toronto, I have an easy answer, and the right one. I just tell them: Wait. You'll see.