Joy overcomes Denver's future archbishop

As Archbishop-designate Samuel J. Aquila of Fargo, N.D. assumes his role as Denver's new shepherd, the former Coloradan brings with him a love for the priesthood, a passion for pro-life advocacy and a heart for the youth.

“I never, ever dreamed that I would ever return here,” he told CNA. “And now in the Father's providential plan and in his love, I'm now the archbishop.”

“It's amazing,” he said, overcome with emotion.

Filling a position left vacant for over eight months, Archbishop-designate Aquila was announced on May 29 as the Denver archdiocese’s new leader by apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo M. Vigano in Washington, D.C.

The 61-year-old will succeed Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who led the Denver archdiocese for 14 years and was installed as head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in September 2011.

Denver's new archbishop said he was outdoors and gardening in Fargo when he received the news of his appointment from the nuncio.

“I heard my cell phone ring, and when I looked at the number I realized that it was from Washington, D.C.,” and he thought, “I'd better step aside for this conversation.”

He recalled Archbishop Vigano on the other line telling him almost immediately that the “Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has appointed you to be Archbishop of Denver.”

“Do you accept?” the nuncio asked.

After pausing briefly, Archbishop-designate Aquila responded, “I very willingly accept.”

Although he said he is “very excited” for the new post, he also reflected on how “it's one of those moments where it's bittersweet.”

“I've been in Fargo for 11 years, it's become home and I've developed wonderful friendships with the priests and the laity there.”

Far from being a stranger in a new location, however, he will be returning to a placed that he called home for 25 years. Not only did the native Burbank, Californian study to become a priest in Denver, he served as the first rector of the local St. John Vianney Seminary.

He also “vividly” remembers Pope John Paul II's trip to Denver 1993 for World Youth Day, when he served on the committee that helped to put the visit together and assisted as master of ceremonies.

Since Blessed John Paul II's historic visit, the Denver archdiocese has been the launch site for numerous ministries under the banner of the New Evangelization – the late Pope's call for reaching formerly Christian societies with the Gospel.

These include initiatives such as the college campus ministry program FOCUS, the Catholic graduate school the Augustine Institute, and the women's educational organization ENDOW.

“It's been very exciting to see what's happened in terms of the New Evangelization,” the archbishop-designate noted. “I want to continue all of the work that has been done by both my predecessors.”

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One area of ministry close to his heart is priestly formation, he said, observing that the Denver archdiocese is “blessed” to have such thriving seminaries.

“I plan on working closely with the priests of the diocese, and with the permanent deacons, and really focusing in on their spiritual life and to continue to build the fraternal relationship among the priests.”

“I am thoroughly convinced that the deeper the intimacy that priests have with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit -- in living in the communion of love -- the more will they return that love and serve their people better,” he said.

Another mission within the Church that's deeply important to him is pro-life advocacy – an area he is known for in the Fargo diocese.

For the new archbishop, any questions surrounding the issues of abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide all “get back to the basic dignity of the human person.”

“Every human being, each one of us, began at the moment of conception,” he underscored. “There is no human being that has not begun at the moment of conception.”

With that in mind, he said he's been unequivocally supportive of efforts such as the international 40 Days for Life campaign, a peaceful protest initiative that seeks to put an end to abortion.

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“It's a great way to give witness to life, it's a great way to demonstrate prayer, it's peaceful,” he said. “And then there's always the tremendous joy when you know you've saved an unborn child.”

Also high on the priority list for Archbishop-designate Aquila is the local young adult Catholic community, which is among the largest in the U.S.

“I want them to know I love them,” he stated. “I look forward to working with them, to serving them, to bringing Christ to them.”

Archbishop-designate Aquila said he is also passionate about meeting and connecting with Northern Colorado's Latino population, who make up over 50 percent of the area's Catholics.

“I've always had a love” for the Hispanic community, he said.

“I want to certainly continue to support them, to enable them in their faith and their culture, in their family life to continue to strengthen that in Christ and also in their devotional practices.”

Those within the Catholic Latino population “face different challenges within the society in which we live,” he observed.

Among the challenges that he hopes tackle are helping Latino Catholics “continue to integrate into the United States and bring the tremendous gifts that they offer, especially in the area of family life and their faith.”

“I certainly need to brush up on my Spanish,” he said with a smile. 

Archbishop-designate Aquila will be installed as head of the archdiocese on July 18 at Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

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