Pope John Paul and Fr. John Mary at World Youth Day
Denver Colorado 1993
The 1993 World Youth Day in Denver was the first one held in North America or for an English- speaking nation. Although many American bishops were afraid that it wouldn't draw a large response, WYD was attended by hundreds of thousands ( some estimates said it was a million) of young Catholics from around the globe. Among those attending were three busloads of young people who had traveled from Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, led by Father John Mary and other priests from their congregation.
The young people had worked hard for over a year to raise money for the trip by selling special prints of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe painted by a local artist.
They were to travel by bus, but due to the massive event, buses were in short supply and they had to take what they could get. And what they got proved to be not too good. In one bus the air-condition broke and very few windows would open ---and this was August. And then the bathroom developed a problem and the entire bus began to smell like a bathroom.
Each of the buses took turns breaking down, and this meant that all the buses stopped, so that they could remain together. They ate ham and cheese sandwiches while they waited for the repairs.
Their plan had been to arrive two days early in order to have time in the Colorado mountains, as many of the young people had never been out of their towns. The delays cost them one of those days. Because they couldn’t afford much in the way of accommodations, they had made arrangements to stay at what had been a nice lodge…until it had been severely damaged by fire several years earlier. It had not been in operation since, but the owners, for a reasonable fee, let them come. They were the first to use it since the fire. No electricity. No kitchen. No staff. Hoses provided some water. More ham and cheese sandwiches.
(Father John Mary writes more extensively about this whole experience in the book that he has been working on forever. The following is one brief excerpt from the book.)
Each time I had to announce a delay, or a new sacrifice, I thought I might be lynched.
On the contrary, I didn’t hear one complaint. Not one. For the whole trip! Partly, I suppose, because the kids figured it was all part of the adventure. But also, I think, because they were used to difficult situations and sacrifices. In any event, I was amazed at their good humor throughout.
And their vitality. It had been a long, exhausting trip. And in Denver—as some groups stayed in hotels—we were sleeping on gym floors. Yet when we finally got to the event, I remember our crowd grabbing a 60-foot-long banner emblazoned in the colors of Mexico, carrying it above their heads, and marching and singing “our song,” which one of them had written and all had enthusiastically embraced. They seemed like a freight train roaring through the crowds, not obnoxious, just excited to finally be there. And to finally see the Holy Father.
To conclude, here is an excerpt from another account of WYD by George Weigel, who wrote a biography of the Pope:
The helicopter pilot who flew John Paul into the old Mile High Stadium said the noise from the cheering crowd created air turbulence the likes of which he hadn’t experienced since being under fire when flying in Vietnam. The chief of police later noted that there hadn’t been a single felony arrest in the city during the entire time World Youth Day was underway—right after Denver had been experiencing a serious crime wave. Skeptical people who hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years found themselves giving water and candy to young pilgrims as they walked fifteen miles through and out of the city they’d transformed, to the closing Vigil and Mass at Cherry Creek State Park.
And during that Mass, the pope brought it all to a fine, dramatic conclusion with this challenge: “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. … It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”