LDS among volunteers for Papal visit

Craig and Shirley Nelson, members of the Greenwood Village Ward in southeast Denver, had been in their new home only three days when they were deluged by the media, curious neighbors and Catholic friends.

The interest was generated by the panorama offered from their balcony - a sweeping view of Cherry Creek State Park, site of a Catholic mass which was attended by almost 400,000 worshipers. The mass was conducted by Pope John Paul II, spiritual leader of almost 1 billion Catholics worldwide. It was the concluding event of World Youth Day, held in Denver on Aug. 11-15.More than 180,000 young Catholics from almost 100 countries converged in Denver for World Youth Day. The five-day forum was designed to provide religious education, increase faith and offer interaction with Pope John Paul II. The conference was by far the largest event ever held in Colorado. Over 10,000 volunteers were needed to help with the Catholic pilgrimage to Denver. Its success required many months of intensive planning and preparation and depended in part on help from people of other faiths, including Latter-day Saints.

"The Mormon community here in Denver has been very helpful," said Cindy Mathews, spokeswoman for the World Youth Day Committee. "They were one of the first to come forth as a group and offer their services both as host families and with general help."

LDS volunteers supplied housing, staffed information centers, passed out registration packets and provided office help at World Youth Day headquarters. They prepared press credentials, gave medical assistance at event sites and put up and took down countless chairs, tables and booths. Missionaries from the Colorado Denver South Mission helped prepare the park site for the papal mass. And in the final month before World Youth Day, the Aurora Colorado Stake alone provided more than 100 volunteers who gave more than 1,200 hours of service.

One of the most significant services provided by LDS members was interpreting for non-English speaking pilgrims throughout the week. The language skills of many returned missionaries were drawn on heavily by conference officials. "We kept busy answering mostly very basic questions," said Spanish interpreter Dan Mathews, who is mission leader of the Dartmouth Ward, Lakewood Colorado Stake. "People wanted to know where to catch a shuttle, where to get water and, of course, where the bathrooms were."

The Denver Multi-region Public Affairs Council coordinated most of the LDS involvement with World Youth Day. Stake public affairs directors did grassroots work on the stake level.

"Our members feel it is important to reach out into the community in any way that will make it better," said Ilene Dibble, community relations director on the council. "We thought this was a premier opportunity to promote good will by assisting the success of the conference. What a great goal to bring youth together from all over the world to study about peace and love who would then return to their own countries and spread their enthusiasm and faith to others."

While in Denver, World Youth Day pilgrims participated in religious education experiences and enjoyed the cultural amenities of the city. They helped on volunteer projects, such as picking up litter, cleaning graffiti from Denver's bike paths, pounding nails and mixing mortar for homes for the poor. Enthusiastic crowds went to the big welcome for Pope John Paul II at Denver's Mile High Stadium. Multitudes congregated in the evenings for music events. On Saturday thousands walked 14 miles from downtown Denver to Cherry Creek State Park where they were joined by the remainder who rode buses. Almost 200,000 youth participated in prayer and contemplation through the night and stayed for the concluding papal Mass on Sunday when the size of the multitude doubled as other Catholic worshipers journeyed to hear the pope.

Rene Pechura, a Catholic youth who lives near Frankfurt, Germany, reflected on the conference: "We came together to pray. That's going to make a difference all over the world, now and well into the future."

A hundred years ago, gold drew thousands to Colorado, but many went away poorer after their searches. Last week, the hundreds of thousands who came to the Rockies searching for more enduring riches returned to their homes rewarded for their efforts. Catholics and Mormons alike demonstrated that solidarity among all people is possible through common hope and faith.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed