Bishop David Zubik said that when he joins other faithful at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, they will learn from Pope Francis — and Jesus — what it means to use their hearts not as weapons but as instruments of love — to look into each other’s eyes as Jesus looks into our eyes.
“In 13 days, we go on a pilgrimage of peace and love and mercy,” he said during a World Youth Day send-off Mass July 11 at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
In attendance were many of the pilgrims who will accompany him to Krakow for the July 25-31 celebration. Some 140 people will travel from the diocese. The official Pittsburgh delegation of 114 will include diocesan seminarians.
“It’s wonderful to go forth in prayer,” said Gary Roney, director of the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry. “To start the pilgrimage off the way it should continue to the end.”
He noted that the pilgrims will be witnesses in their actions, their “noises” and in their prayers.
In his homily, Bishop Zubik said, in light of the recent violence that has captured headlines across the country, the pilgrims are “a sight for sore eyes,” in that they bring hope through their witness.
If we are to take God seriously, he noted, we must realize that we have the power — God’s power — to help the world build a better peace, in helping each other get to heaven. We must take the power of the heart more seriously than just once a year on Valentine’s Day, the bishop said. We must learn to love like Jesus.
We can use the heart in one of two ways, he added. We can use it like a weapon, an instrument of hatred, revenge, jealousy, bigotry and selfishness.
People who use the heart like a weapon, Bishop Zubik noted, are at the root of the headlines that are dominating the media. But before we can point fingers at others, he said, we must check ourselves to see if we are using our hearts as weapons.
Do we gossip? Use the silent treatment? Do we look down on others because of color, how much money they make, their religion, their politics, their sexual identity or the uniform they wear?
“If we look down on anybody for any of these reasons, aren’t we using our heart like a weapon?” he said.
But the second way of using the heart, he noted, is as an instrument of love. We see it in the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In doing so we are always forgiving, merciful and generous, the bishop said. We are other-centered and always look to the love of Christ on the cross.
Bishop Zubik reflected on a homily given by Pope Francis. The homily’s message, he said, had a profound effect on him and changed the way he looks at homeless people on the street.
What do we do when we encounter a homeless person? he asked. Do we just walk by and ignore them? Or do we give them money and walk away without saying anything? If we do either, we have done nothing, he said.
Only if we look into their eyes, he added, have we used the power of the heart.
“It hit me right between the eyes,” he said of the Holy Father’s homily. The bishop pointed out that he now looks a person in the eye and asks them to look into his eyes. They often look at him with shock, he said, because they can’t believe that someone wants to connect with them heart-to-heart.
Roney said it was important to have the send-off because with any travel to a foreign land there is a sense of concern and anxiety. The celebration brought a sense of peace and calmness. Having it with the bishop made it even more special.
People often take the journey for granted when they see a few million people show up, he said. But what they don’t see is the sweat and hard work that it takes to make it possible.
“Everybody has a story and has done some amazing things to put these groups together,” he added. “They’ve done it and they’re here.”
Roney pointed to Bishop Zubik’s theme of “The heart of mercy. Bring home the heart of love” as being a great example for the pilgrims to follow. It speaks to the transformation they will experience, and in turn bring back to transform the diocese.
“(They are) missionaries of mercy, led by the heart,” he said.
With 20 pilgrims, St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in East McKeesport will have one of the largest contingents from the diocese.
“They’re just really excited to come together as a family, and just be witnesses, be part of it,” said youth minister Emily Belchick. Her group wore “Happy Catholics” T-shirts that designate their parish.
It will be the fifth time the parish has sponsored a group, she said, and many of the young people have attended WYD celebrations before. It gives them the opportunity, Belchick said, to see the magnitude of the universal church. They see the similarities of its members rather than the differences.
The journey has always been an evangelization tool, she noted, and the young people want to come back and share it with the parish, and with their communities. By sharing their excitement and stories, they make other young people want to experience it.
“It’s the Holy Spirit,” Belchick said. “They’re on fire. They want to share it with everybody. Once you see that, it’s so contagious.”
The beautiful thing about WYD, she added, is that when a backpack gets too heavy, there is someone there to pick it up. Or when someone is down, there is someone to pick them up.
“It’s just a really good life lesson of what it means to be church,” she said.
Belchick also noted that parishioners write petitions that the pilgrims carry with them on their journey. They are read during morning prayer. It is a way, she said, for the young people to bring the parish with them.
Krista Sudyk, 21, of St. Robert Bellarmine will attend her third WYD celebration. She first experienced the pilgrimage as an eighth-grader, and she has seen it carry her through high school and into her final year at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Each one, Sudyk said, has been an “amazing” experience that has revealed different aspects of the church through the various countries that have hosted it. It is inspiring for her to see that the church isn’t “falling apart” and that young people are assuming the roles that are building the church of the future.
“It’s just a great experience to be there in that moment and be able to take that home with you,” she said.