.- At the event's recent anniversary, participants in World Youth Day Denver recalled how the presence of Blessed John Paul II brought joy to the local Church, as well as the call to be disciples without fear.
“What I saw that day was a young, thriving, and alive Church, and I saw people who loved God and who wanted to share that love with others, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Cara Rhyne, a consecrated laywoman in the Archdiocese of Denver, on Aug. 15
World Youth Day was instituted by Blessed John Paul II in 1985, and is a global event in which youths from every nation around the world are invited to spend a week with the Holy Father in prayer, and in celebration of the Catholic faith.
The Archdiocese of Denver recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of hosting World Youth Day in 1993 by hosting a diocesan-wide celebration which included live music by worship leader Steve Angrisano, testimonies from previous World Youth Day attendees, and Mass with Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
Originally from Denver, Rhyne is a member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, and remembers distinctly how participating in the 1993 encounter with the Holy Father at the age of 13 planted the seeds of her vocation.
Rhyne stated that she was deeply moved by the words of Blessed John Paul II when he told the youth that “you know how easy it is to avoid the fundamental questions, but your presence here shows that you will not hide from reality and from responsibility.”
She stated that after hearing those words, as she continued to grow in her faith, she felt “more and more” compelled to share that faith with others, and that this experience was “a seed for me to understand my call to consecrate my life. I had received a great joy and I had to share it.”
“When he asked me to follow him, when he asked me to give my life and consecrate my life, I remembered these words of JPII, 'young people of World Youth Day, the Church asks you to go in the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who are near and those who are far away. Share with them the freedom you have found in Christ.'”
Rhyne, who has attended four different World Youth Days, including leading a group of teens to Rio last month, also commented on Pope Francis' call for a deeper theology of women in the Church, saying that “if we really want to understand what it means to be a woman in the Church we need to look to our mother Mary.”
Mary's role marks “the importance of being a faithful woman of God, a woman who is open, ready to receive, to listen to God's call and answer it with a full heart,” she said.
“That's the call of each one of us, in wherever we are, to go out and to love and to give of ourselves fully. To trust in the Lord, to be women of faith, that's the call that the Lord has for each one of us; to look to Mary, to see her, to be close to her is how we're gonna be able to do that.”
Ana Galván, editor of the weekly Spanish television program “Fe Catolica Viva,” also gave her testimony at the celebration.
Galván, who was new to her faith at the time of World Youth Day in Denver, shared in Rhyne's experience of seeing a young Church excited about Jesus.
“I couldn't believe the multitude of people at my parish, at downtown. Everywhere, everybody was happy and friendly, and joyful,” she said.
“We were singing and laughing and praising, and I can still hear the echo of the people singing, or shouting 'John Paul II! We love you!'”
Recalling the walk to Cherry Creek State Park for the final Mass, Galván expressed that it was in that moment that she understood what it meant to be Catholic. “It was just amazing how everybody was joyful at that time, and I know now that then I was being Catholic.”
She shared that she has always had a special joy at having been at the final Mass celebrated by Blessed John Paul II, saying that “I have all my life to share with others the joy, the happiness, the pride of being Catholic.”
Among the others who gave their testimonies were Denver native Marybeth Bonacci, who had traveled around the world giving speeches on Blessed John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” prior to his visit to the city, and Katherine Bauman, who proclaimed the first reading at the Papal Mass in Rio de Janiero with Pope Francis.
Both women shared the joy of being with each Pope, and spoke of the impact that each pontiff has had on them, as well as the universal Church.
Bonacci, who after World Youth Day wrote a book on the speeches of Blessed John Paul II, claimed that many “did not hear most of the talks,” but that “it was the grace, the holiness of the man John Paul II, it was the Holy Spirit working through him,” that helped open the hearts of those present to the Holy Spirit.
“He became our spiritual grandfather. And when your grandpa dies you don't just get a new one. A new holy father comes, he will be that spiritual grandfather to the generation who went to Rio.”
Bauman affirmed this statement, saying that she was deeply moved by Pope Francis' “simplicity and his humanity,” and that he reminded her of Jesus, and how accessible he became to us through his Incarnation.
“He's very dear to my heart now, and I know to a lot of young people's hearts,” she said, stating that Pope Francis' example shows that being a disciple “comes in not just big extravagant situations in our lives, but in the very most basic encounters of our everyday lives.”
The celebration was held at Denver's John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization, which was built after the pontiff's 1993 visit, and houses Denver's two seminaries and the offices of the archdiocese.
Correction, Aug. 20, 11:56 am: An earlier version of this article stated that the final Mass of Denver's World Youth Day was held at Mile High Stadium. It was in fact held at Cherry Creek State Park.