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New Denver Archbishop Aquila welcomed with hugs, standing ovation
By Jean Torkelson
Faithful greet Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila with applause as he enters a media conference at the Cardinal Stafford Library of the John Paul II Center in south Denver May 29. That morning (noon Rome time), Pope Benedict XVI had appointed the bishop of Fargo, N.D., as the new archbishop of Denver.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila was greeted to a rousing hometown welcome Tuesday, as he met staff and the local media just hours after being appointed to the post by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
“We celebrate a long awaited day,” said Bishop James D. Conley, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, as he introduced Archbishop Aquila to a packed crowd of staff and media at the John Paul II Center.
Moments before, the eighth archbishop of Denver had braved a gauntlet of handshakes, hugs, and a standing ovation as he made his way through the crowd.
The welcome befitted a much-missed favorite son with deep roots in Colorado. Until Tuesday’s surprise predawn announcement, Denver’s newest Catholic leader served as bishop of Fargo, N.D., for the past 11 years.
The day was “long awaited” in more ways than one. It has been nearly 10 months since Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., left Denver to lead the Philadelphia Archdiocese. While Archbishop Aquila has been away more than a decade, he began his priestly ministry here. A native of California, he served his first parish in Denver and also served the archdiocese in a number of capacities, including as Secretary of Catholic Education and as the first rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.
“When I left Denver I never imagined for a moment that I would one day return as archbishop,” Archbishop Aquila said. “All of this is overwhelming."
He fielded a number of media questions that reflected his growing national reputation as a frank defender of faith and pro-life issues. While bishop in North Dakota, he was an outspoken critic of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Barack Obama as commencement speaker.
Asked to expand on his letter of protest to Notre Dame, Archbishop Aquila said, “I believe one of the important qualities of any Catholic institution is to reflect the values of Christ and the Gospel.”
He said it would be a different matter if the invitation was to a discussion or a debate. But in this case, knowing that Obama’s positions clearly contradict the teachings of the Church, “to give recognition, honor or primacy of place (to such a speaker) is a totally different question,” he said.
He also expanded on his past statements that organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union are endangering the nation’s future. Archbishop Aquila said he has deep concerns about the forced secularization of society: “Essentially, what groups like the ACLU, or agnostics, or atheists, are saying is, ‘You can keep your faith personal, but in public we want you to be like us.’ They are essentially imposing their beliefs on us—and it’s certainly not what our forefathers had in mind.”
To applause, the archbishop added, “While being respectful, we must bring God into the public square as our forefathers did.”
Asked if it was possible to overstep appropriate boundaries in politicizing the faith, Denver’s new leader replied, “It is important to always present the truth in charity … (and) we are firm believers that through reason we can reach the truth.”
To another reporter, Archbishop Aquila replied that he needed to study Colorado’s legislative issues before commenting on them: “I’ve been away for 11 years and my concern was with the public square of North Dakota,” he said. “Basically, I have a learning curve here.”
Archbishop Aquila praised the younger generation for its willingness to share the Gospel, especially on pro-life issues.
“You are our hope,” he said.
He also addressed Colorado’s thriving Catholic Hispanic community, praising the strong commitment to family life and deep devotion to the faith. However, he added, in Spanish—and to laughter—that he needed to study the language more.
He told the crowd he had entrusted this new beginning to Our Lady of Guadalupe, “who has always covered me with her mantle of love and protection … she has become dear to my heart, especially as a bishop.”
Archbishop Aquila will be installed as Denver archbishop during a Mass 2 p.m. July 18 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver.