KUSA — Twenty five years ago, Denver was the focus of the world’s attention.
Pope John Paul II came to Colorado for World Youth Day, the Catholic Churches’ massive event to celebrate young people.
More than 800,000 people came from 100 countries to hear the Pope’s message of encouragement, to pray with him, and to renew their faith beside him.
One public relations person from the church described it this way: “It’s like Woodstock with all the good and none of the bad.”
There was no pot or beer. But there was a rock star. The Pope captured the imagination of people in Colorado and throughout the country.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who was a priest in charge of much of the event, told us it was because of his “outgoing personality, his ability to speak so many languages, his love for people, and his deep compassion for people.”
The Pope attended many events during his five days in Colorado.
He held mass at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica, spent time with President Bill Clinton at Regis University, and visited St. Malo Retreat near Estes Park.
It was there that he surprised everyone, including his security people, by walking to the highway to meet hundreds of people who had gathered there.
He was like a politician working a rope line, except he wasn’t running for anything.
But the big event was his final mass held at Cherry Creek State Park. Hundreds of thousands of people lasted through 100-degree heat to hear the Pontiff deliver his message of hope and peace.
On a personal note, I got a change to meet the Pope for a few minutes before he came to Denver. 9NEWS sent anchor Mike Landess and I to Rome to shoot a special previewing the his visit.
We had an audience when we met him but found him warm and charming. He told us he loved the mountains, and was looking forward to spending some time in the Rockies.
The historic nature of the Pope’s visit to Denver should not be underestimated. It was the first time the city ever hosted an event of the size and magnitude.
Archbishop Aquila says it was the start of many initiatives to help the homeless, celebrate the dignity of women, and revitalize the congregation.
I remember interviewing a Vatican expert at the time, who told the story of a non-Catholic woman who saw Pope John Paul II in person for the first time.
She told him, “You guys got a Pope who really knows how to Pope!”
We found that out 25 years ago.