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The Impact of the Denver’s Own Papal Visit 20 Years Ago

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Pope Attends Welcoming Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

As Pope Francis enjoys massive crowds in Brazil gathering for World Youth Day, the pictures from Brazil reminded me that it was twenty years ago when Denver enjoyed its own World Youth Day and its own day in the international spotlight.

I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to some of the events from Denver’s World Youth Day, and looking back twenty years later, it’s easy to see what a pivotal event it was in history of Denver.

Denver’s World Youth Day in 1993 changed the way the world looked at Denver and made it possible for Denver and Colorado to host a series of events that sealed our status on the global stage.

When Pope John Paul II arrived in Denver in 1993, the world watched history with Denver as the backdrop.

Regis University hosted an historic summit between then President Bill Clinton and the Pope. I was a runner for a news organization and was able to be in the press line that afternoon. Beyond the pride I felt as a student of Regis, watching the President and the Pope talk on my campus, I quickly understood that afternoon that I witnessed history. But the Regis campus was not the only Denver site where history was made.

While Mile High Stadium is thought of as the site the historic speech by President Obama in 2008, accepting the nomination for President of the United States, it wasn’t the first speech from a Mile High Stadium that made history.

Pope John Paul II spoke to a sold out crowd at the older version of Mile High Stadium in 1993. He was the first person that brought the Mile High Magic to a global audience.

And when World Youth Day held its finale at the Cherry Creek Reservoir, bringing an estimated 500,000 people to the park, Denver showed the world that it could safely host an event that equaled nearly half of its population at the time.

Denver’s World Youth Day helped to elevate Denver and Colorado to the world stage and it is not a coincidence that Denver hosted All Star Games, a G8 Summit and other major events soon after World Youth Day. And while it was held 15 years later, I have to imagine that the success of World Youth Day in Denver was key to Denver being able to secure the 2008 DNC.

World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Denver impacted all of Colorado, regardless of religion or faith. Looking back at the event twenty years later, especially considering the success Denver has enjoyed on the world stage since then, it is clear that it was a pivotal day in Colorado history.

While Brazil is already a major player in hosting global events, welcoming World Youth Day this year, the World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016, it is clear its own WYD will make an impact on the success of future events.

For Denver and Colorado, the success from hosting the Pope and hundreds of thousands of people made a clear impact and will continue to be the moment when Denver proved to the world that it was ready for prime time.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces and hosts the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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