Fifth-graders swarm Cathedral Basilica, buzz about it’s beauty
By Julie Filby
Photo by Robert Linn for the DCR
Eyes were wide and a few jaws dropped, as hundreds of 10- and 11-year-olds streamed into Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception March 8 for the annual Fifth Grade Mass.
“It’s huge, it’s amazing,” said Jack Hagan, 11, from St. Thomas More School in Centennial, who was visiting the “mother church” of the archdiocese for the first time.
“For many of them, it’s their first visit to the cathedral,” explained Sister Elizabeth Youngs, associate superintendent of Catholic schools. “We see it as a time for fifth-graders to be among their peers in a setting other than sports and have an opportunity to make a personal contact with the archbishop.”
A total of 558 students from 19 schools attended the Mass, along with teachers, parents and pastors. Another Fifth Grade Mass had been celebrated previously, on Feb. 20, for the additional 19 schools in the archdiocese. There are a total of 1,027 fifth-graders enrolled in Catholic schools.
For a small group in the front row, the day was particularly meaningful. Seven of the eight fifth-graders from St. Anthony School in Sterling, along with teacher Gayle Japp and principal Joe Skerjanec, traveled two hours to be at the Mass. Earlier in the year, the school was in danger of closing before more than $1 million in money and pledges were raised.
“We got to witness a real miracle,” said Japp.
Some schools had the opportunity to serve in the liturgy including Nativity of Our Lord in Broomfield as altar servers, Most Precious Blood in Denver students as gift bearers, St. James in Denver provided the lector, and the choir represented Christ the King School in Denver.
The choir’s two fifth-grade members, Nia Taubr and Samantha Buyungo, shared cantor duties.
“We were a little nervous,” said Buyungo, who described the congregation as “a lot of fifth graders.”
The two Fifth Grade Masses were Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s first since being named archbishop last summer. In an interactive homily, delivered from the cathedral’s main aisle, he reflected on the day’s Gospel from Mark (12: 28-34) where Jesus shared the two greatest commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
“As a newborn, did you know how to love?” he asked the students.
“How did you learn?” he continued, calling on children whose hands shot up in the air.
“From people loving you,” he responded. “And that love grows, especially the more we put God first. ... It brings about a peace and a joy when we love God above all things, and love our neighbor as our self.”
He encouraged the young people to see Jesus as a friend, and enter into a personal relationship with him.
Emma Speshock, 11, from St. Joseph School in Fort Collins, appreciated the archbishop’s message and the chance to meet him after Mass when he greeted students personally.
“(His homily) was really awesome,” she said. “He was really nice and I got to take a picture with him.”
Each student received a wooden cross necklace blessed by Archbishop Aquila.
“Know that I pray for you every day,” he told them. “(I pray) that your faith will continue to grow and deepen each day.”
Why fifth grade?
“This is the 20th year for the annual Fifth Grade Mass, instituted in 1993 by then Denver archbishop, Cardinal James Stafford. At this year’s March 8 Mass, the Denver Catholic Register asked students: “Why do you think Cardinal Stafford picked fifth grade?” Below are a couple of their responses, along with the bottom line from Cardinal Stafford.
“Because we’re in between being ‘smart’ and ‘that smart.’”
“Not like second-graders, or third-graders, or kindergarteners; in fifth grade we know what Church means: it means praying and being with God.”
“Fifth-graders are chosen to attend this liturgical celebration of the Eucharist because you are studying sacraments this year, and you are at an age when you can begin to appreciate your membership in the community of the Church.”