Vespers for new archbishop draws 1,300 faithful, religious leaders
By Julie Filby
Photo by James Baca/DCR
If Denver Catholics symbolize the bride of Christ, and Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila the bridegroom, then Solemn Vespers on the eve of his installation might be compared to a customary rehearsal dinner.
On July 17, the prayers of 1,300 people soared from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Northglenn as they sang and rejoiced in anticipation of the union of Denver’s Catholic flock with its new shepherd.
Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator of Denver the last 10 months, was main celebrant; he was joined by Denver’s previous two archbishops: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., and Cardinal J. Francis Stafford. They were joined at the evening prayer service by some 30 bishops, many priests, deacons and religious; ecumenical and interreligious leaders, and laity from all over the archdiocese.
The marriage analogy was introduced by Archbishop Chaput in his homily; it was the same comparison he used when being installed archbishop of Philadelphia last September.
“For those of you who do not know me, I’m Archbishop Charles Chaput,” began the leader of Denver’s Catholics for 14 years.
His comments were instantly interrupted by the congregation’s laughter, followed by prolonged applause.
“Well,” he continued. “I really thought there might be some of you that didn’t know me.”
He continued saying he felt his appointment to Philadelphia resembled an arranged marriage, “with the Holy Father being the one who arranged the marriage.”
“Just as Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride,” he said. “Those of us who serve the Church, as bishops, serve the bride of Christ in the place of the bridegroom, or with him, and the ring symbolizes that relationship.”
But sometimes that image is lacking.
“It is (lacking) today because if that image is true, I’ve just returned to my former wife,” he said with his familiar dry wit, “who’s going to be marrying someone else.
“And I’m supposed to be happy about it.”
More laughter and applause.
“Archbishop Aquila, you are going to marry a beautiful bride,” Archbishop Chaput continued.
“The Archdiocese of Denver is an extraordinary place.”
By The Numbers
Following the homily, one-by-one 10 ecumenical and interreligious leaders joined Archbishop Aquila in the sanctuary to welcome him. Organizations represented were Colorado Christian University, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Colorado Muslim Society, American Jewish Committee, Colorado Council of Churches, Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, Greater Denver Metro Ministerial Alliance, Christian Church Disciples of Christ, and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver.
The faith leaders shared messages of gratitude for past joint efforts with the Catholic Church and offered words of welcome and support. Many expressed the desire to work together for the common good in the future, serving the poor and immigrants, defending human life and traditional marriage, and fighting for religious freedom.
Archbishop Aquila then addressed those gathered.
“When the news (of my appointment to Denver) came, the feelings were very mixed,” he said. “With both sadness and joy … joy in coming back to a community that I have known.”
He reflected on 25 years serving in Denver before spending the last 11 in Fargo. He said during his May 29 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, following the announcement of his appointment, he was overwhelmed with memories and gratitude.
“I thought to myself: ‘Who am I?’ that the father in his love … has given to me this great gift.
“I’m completely unworthy,” he continued. “And yet the Lord bestows generous gifts in so many different and unexpected ways.”
He thanked his predecessors, Bishop Conley, brother bishops, and all who were present, for praying with him that night, indicating he “depends on their prayers” and assured them he will pray for them “each and every day.”
Following the service, Archbishop Aquila received guests for nearly two hours. The faithful waited in a lengthy line to shake his hand, kiss his ring, offer their support, ask for a blessing, pose for a photo, or have their vespers’ program signed.
Carolyn Golden, a parishioner of Shrine of St. Anne in Arvada, was among them.
“I’m meeting him for the first time,” she said. “I’m so excited he’s here.”
When asked about her goals for his ministry, she said: “I would like to see him show great courage in what we’re facing politically for our rights for religious freedom.”
The Wolbach family—parents Mark and Mary, son Daniel and daughter Maureen—attended the vespers service from their parish, Light of the World Church in Littleton.
“Tonight was a great opportunity to meet the new archbishop,” said Daniel Wolbach, 19, a college seminarian at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., who ultimately plans to study at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. “Especially on the level of saying vespers.”
His father, Mark, is a candidate in the diaconal program in Denver.
“(We are) waiting to be called to our second year of candidacy (in the program),” he said. “Since we have a new archbishop now, we’ll see that very soon I hope.
“It’s a very happy and blessed day for all of Denver.”