Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
October 23, 2002
Archdiocese's youth of faith celebrate pope's election anniversary
Crowd braves chilly night for Pope Day celebration in Skyline Park
By Jack Bacon
Colorado followers of Pope John Paul II, warmed by free coffee, cocoa, cookies and festive music, celebrated his long and awe-inspiring career of service to God and the human race Oct. 16, the 24th anniversary of his election to lead the Catholic Church.
The Denver festival opened with a 5:30 p.m. Mass for the pope in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception concelebrated by Father Krzysztof Misiura, assistant pastor, and Byzantine Father Chrysostom Frank, administrator of Holy Protection Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church and St. John Vianney Seminary theology teacher.
"This vocation was a great gift from God," Father Misiura said in his homily after briefly recounting the events of the pope's early life, and concluded, "Let's go back to our daily lives and see if we really practice our own faith."
The party moved to Skyline Park downtown after Mass for three hours of entertaining inspiration laced with readings from the pope's encyclicals, personal messages to the faithful and the world, and his plays and poetry before a backdrop of photographs from his life and portrayals of occasions in the life of Christ shown on a giant screen. Participants sat on the brick plaza, undeterred by temperatures sagging into the 30s.
Pope John Paul II is perhaps "the greatest pope in history," said Peter Braam, coordinator of young adult ministry from the Archdiocese of Denver, in opening the program. "We're here to begin listening to him."
Anastasia Northrop, co-coordinator of Denver's Pope Day, said it started with New Yorker Peter McFadden and was inspired by the pope's appearance at World Youth Day in Toronto in July. It expanded to celebrations in 21 cities in five countries including one in Seattle organized by a Methodist.
Father Greg Cioch of Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Estes Park, like the pope and Father Misiura a native of Poland, recited the opening prayer in English and Polish. He recalled watching television coverage of Pope John Paul II's election, his mother's excitement and her telling him it marked the first choice of a non-Italian pope in 457 years.
Being 6 years old at the time, he said, "I thought all popes were Polish."
Bill Beckman of the archdiocesan office for ecumenism and interreligious affairs told the throng the pope "has always been a prophet ... a relentless prophet" who expressed himself throughout a vast volume of writing. Beckman focused on the pontiff's plays and poetry to convey his message through the years, and also from the Second Vatican Council's "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World the pope helped draft as a council father when he was archbishop of Krakow, Poland, and which he quotes frequently in his writing.
Beckman read a poem Karol Wojtyla wrote about visiting his mother's grave when he was 19; she had died when he was 8. The future pope, who was born in 1920, wrote his first play in 1939, the year Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and six others, several based on historic and biblical figures and reflecting in some way on Poland's history of invasions and oppression.
In his remarks, however, Beckman focused on the play "Our God's Brother," written by Wojtyla in 1950 and which was presented in Denver by the Denver Civic Theater in 1993, the year Pope John Paul II visited the city for World Youth Day. It's based on the real life of a Polish freedom fighter of the early 19th century who was severely wounded, captured and released by the Russians. The subject was a respected artist troubled by the suffering of the poor and homeless and who became Brother Albert, living and begging with the downtrodden and helping them form a hopeful community of spirit.
The play, Beckman noted, emphasizes Brother Albert's inner conflict between the demands of the temporal and successful life he led and the pull toward the vocation of serving society's most needy, and the equally serious friction between serving the poor because of their need and the use of service as an abstraction motivated by the political advantage it can mean in the quest for political power.
The conflict is resolved during a scene in a confessional in which the protagonist rejects the politically motivated path after his confessor tells him: "Let yourself be molded by love."
"This is a theme that you will hear from John Paul II over and over again," Beckman said. "If you were in Toronto in 2002, you heard it. If you were in Denver in 1993 you heard it: 'Do not be afraid to be molded by love.'"
Northrop, member of the family operation Our Father's Will Communications, spoke on the pope's contributions to theology of the body, specifically human relationships and especially those between husband and wife and family.
She pointed out the pope has written extensively on the creation of men and women as equals, the significance of physical union as the expression of spiritual communion and that sexuality is a sign of God's love for humans, and that it's necessary for continuation of a "civilization of love."
"Man cannot live without love," she quoted as an underlying theme of his writing, along with, "Man is the only creature on earth created for himself" and not for use.
"We are not means to an end," she said.
Father Chrysostom Frank addressed the pope's dedication to Christian unity, echoing his statement that "absorption or fusion" is not the goal of full communion of Christians, but one that will accommodate the cultural differences "that make up the Church's richness" and that full communion is "an irresistible and irreversible path which has no alternative because it's the way of the Church.
"Our bishop and our primate is committed to the unity of God's people and the bringing together of Christians," he said. "Have we not torn the Lord's seamless robe by separating ourselves from one another?" the pope asked only a week ago, Father Frank said, adding that the pontiff urged restoration of unity by, "overcoming our slowness and our smallness of heart."
He pointed out the pope has visited numerous Orthodox countries and said it's "well known that one of the things he really, really wants to do is to visit Moscow, ... the real power of the world of Eastern Orthodoxy." The pope also has visited the centers of European Protestantism, Father Frank said, in the same ecumenical spirit.
"In addition ... John Paul has made clear that the goal of Christian unity cannot be achieved except through the way of repentance and conversion and that's on the part of all Christians, including us," he said. "... It's not something optional and it's not something secondary for Catholics."
Father Jim Crisman, parochial vicar at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Aurora, concluded the program's messages, calling the pope "one of the great men of history."
"If he were here with us tonight, though, I don't think he would spend any time at all recalling his accomplishments," Father Crisman said. "... He would simply have invited us to enter more deeply into a relationship with Jesus Christ. When he was here among us nine years ago, he did just that."
Visit the Pope Day Web site at www.popeday.com. Videos of Pope Day activities will be available from Our Father's Will Communications, 719-494-0566.