This morning I checked the inbox of one of my email accounts to find an email from a friend sharing with me an article that George Weigel wrote titled, WYD 1993: The Turning Point. After reading through it, I knew that before I went out to drive for Uber Eats today (my side hustle to make extra money for wedding stuff), I wanted to write my own reflection on World Youth Day 1993 as well as share some photos that I took during the week of August 10-15 of the same year.
For me, World Youth day changed the way I understood the Catholic Church. I always thought the Church to be big but not like I what witnessed for 5 days in 1993. It was a dynamic mix of all these different Catholic cultures coming together to celebrate Jesus Christ through his Vicar, the Holy Father, now Pope St. John Paul II. Although it was mostly people of North and South America, I remember meeting people from Europe and even parts of Asia. I had never heard of World Youth Day before going to Denver. They were mostly held in Europe, and most of the early WYD’s were just that – a one day gathering with the Holy Father in Rome.
So, when my young adult group leader, Bobby “BK” Kloska pitched the idea to our young adult group at my parish in Scottsdale, we were all pretty excited to make the trip. BK got us so fired up about attending and seeing the great John Paul II, I remember from that point on all we wanted to do was go to Denver and see him.
Although I don’t remember the trip up to Denver, I do remember vividly the first time we saw Pope St. John Paul II. We were sitting in Mile High Stadium in the upper deck (see the picture of the ticket below that I still possess) – the experience has been stamped in my mind for all time.
We were told that John Paul II was being flown into the stadium by a helicopter. Many of the people around us were talking about it since they heard it from someone else. I remember hearing in the distance military helicopters, which quickly made their way to the stadium. I remember that we could see this man dressed in white sitting at one of the windows of one of the helicopters – it was Pope John Paul II! To say that we were cheering and yelling would be an understatement. After flying over the stadium once, all the helicopters then landed.
About fifteen minutes after the helicopters disappeared from our sight, Pope St. John Paul II came into the stadium riding in the now famous – Pope Mobile. Once he appeared, the entire stadium started cheering and yelling yet again. The Pope Mobile made a lap around the stadium, parked, and then the opening ceremonies began.
The other great experience of that weekend was the Evening Vigil and Closing Mass at Cherry Creek State Park. I remember we parked our big white van in some parking lot and then walked with hundreds and thousands of people to the state park where the closing ceremonies would be held over 24 hours. Although at times it was difficult to understand what was going on since we were so far from the stage, the night was filled with many blessings.
The World Youth Day experience is fantastic because you witness so many young people from around the world praising Jesus Christ and being attentive to his Vicar. As I stated above, World Youth Day really showed me for the first time in my life the universality of the Catholic Church. All these years later, I still cherish the experience deep in my heart and can remember it well enough to explain it to you all reading this article.
At the closing Mass of World Youth Day in 1993, Pope St. John Paul II said,
“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 (Cf. Rom 1,16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cf. Mat 10,27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern ‘metropolis’.
This trip to Denver was the turning point for me personally with my love and affection for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church and his Vicar, Pope John Paul II. At this point in my life, my faith was immature, poorly nurtured, and quite emotionally driven. I did not have a good catechetical foundation when it came to my faith and what the Church taught doctrinally. From this point forward, I started reading books about the Catholic Church, started understanding what the Church taught, and my reason started to balance out all that emotion. I also started learning about the life of John Paul II. His impact on me has been so great over the past 25 years that I solidly consider myself part of the “JP2 Generation.”