Jul 25, 2013
Editor's note: In honor of the 20th anniversary of Denver hosting World Youth Day in 1993, Denver Catholic Register interviewed Archbishop-emeritus of Denver, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, about the historic event.
Q: Take us back to 1993: what were event planners’ expectations for Denver’s World Youth Day and what actually occurred?
Cardinal Stafford: In the beginning the expectations were low. The youth and young adult outreach of the Catholic Church since 1968 had spiraled downhill. Many were wringing their hands. The Woodstock generation and its sequel seemed tone-deaf to Jerusalem and Rome. Different generations lived apart, each constructing its own Tower of Babel. An abyss separated Woodstock and Cherry Creek Park. Intergenerational communication was atrophying. On the national scene in Washington, pessimism prevailed. It was predicted that the papal initiative would attract no more than 20,000 young people. Mile High Stadium would be more than adequate, they said, for the activities culminating with the vigil and papal Mass. The very identity of the event provoked controversy. Some reached back into the Catholic tradition and called it a pilgrimage. Others disagreed and insisted that the term was anachronistic. Catholic young people had moved beyond pilgrimages. Meanwhile, in Rome, reports were circulating in the papal apartment about the sharp increase in Denver murders in 1993. Visions of an American “Wild West” revived in Europe. And yet, against all odds, registrations of young “pilgrims” were exceeding all expectations. They were flowing in from everywhere. We searched very rapidly for a more expansive site (for the closing Mass) and eventually settled on the Cherry Creek State Park with the indispensable help of state and local officials.
Q: Denver’s WYD wasn’t a traditional pilgrimage experience where one goes to a particular sacred site. What were pilgrims making pilgrimage to and where were they to encounter God?