[Editor's note: This article was updated on April 9, 2013; a correction was made to the identification and quote of Anna Basquez.]
Saturday night in downtown Denver is anything but quiet for young adults: There are sports events, clubs, concerts and a lively bar scene.
Yet, once a month, barely five miles southeast of the city center, more than 250 young faithful silently trickle into the chapel at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Hosted by the resident seminarians, Vigil Praise awaits.
Traveling from as far as Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, Colo., the lay youth of the Catholic Church join those pursuing priestly vocations in an evening of praise and worship music, the Office of Readings, a homily, confessions and, most importantly, Eucharistic adoration and Benediction.
Vigil Praise provides the space for prayer and rest in anticipation of the Sabbath. The chapel is dark and the music contemplative. A line for confession runs dozens deep. Some of the youth stand with their hands raised; others kneel on the hard marble floor. Religious sisters, priests and brothers pray alongside the young adults.
"It is encouraging to see many young people who come out on a Saturday night who could be doing lots of other things between 7 and 9pm," said Jonathon Carlson, a 33-year-old pilot from Tennessee by way of Washington, who started going to Vigil Praise in 2007. "It’s fun to get to know the seminarians as well. So many people our age — they hear of someone entering religious life or priesthood, and they think, ‘What?’ But these are human beings intentionally doing what they are choosing. It’s inspiring."
The absence of activity is another fruit of Vigil Praise.
"We’ve (as a society) forgotten who we are and what we’re for — namely that we’re children of God, and we exist to love and be loved. That itself is a state of rest, as a child rests in the arms of its mother," said Daniel Ciucci, a third-year seminarian and the current administrative coordinator for Vigil Praise. "We’ve become tempted toward this notion of progress. Of progress to what? We are going 80 miles an hour, and we don’t know where we are going. But all we care about is going faster."
In many ways, the popularity of Vigil Praise reflects a return to more traditional forms of worship and a greater sense of investment in faith. The goal of Vigil Praise, said Ciucci, is to invite attendees into a deeper relationship with Christ and to help them grow in their faith.
Anna Maria Basquez, 38, a journalist who worked as an arts and entertainment reporter in her early adult life, was involved in the party scene of Denver and Fort Collins. Although she attended Mass and some young-adult social activities at a parish, faith wasn’t her focus.
"Life is so much harder without it, without a consistent stream of prayer and doing things to have grace: going to confession once a month, adoration regularly and Mass at least weekly, if not daily," she said.
After the death of her father and a career change, Basquez radically pursued her faith.
"Vigil Praise is this place where we come together in adoration, song and worship, wherever we are at and whatever stress or joy may be in our lives," she said. "Vigil Praise facilitates time with Our Lord. It shows us that the people around us also crave that. They have things to take to him there, to be thankful for and needs to take to him to ask for."
Vigil Praise began in 1999; it was founded by two seminarians. One still lives in Denver and, now ordained, hears confessions at Vigil Praise.
"I really had envisioned more or less what the reality is today," said Father Anthony Ariniello. "Over the years, it’s been a continual consolation to see it continue and to see so many young souls feel a heart of prayer and fervor at the center of the diocese and in their future pastors."
At the social gathering after Vigil Praise, young adults stay for conversation and fellowship. Often, they continue sharing their faith into the evening at other locations.
"The challenge is really to find that rest and that intimate encounter (with the Lord)," said Ciucci, "which is why we provide the space, which is why we provide the time … so that the beloved children of God can just come and pray."
Autumn Jones is a
graduate student at the
University of Colorado.