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Duquesne, Carlow plan 3-mile homeless-outreach walk for Year of Mercy

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, 8:39 p.m.
Organizers and students pack 35 “hope bags” on Duquense Campus, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. The bags were prepared for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage walk  where participants hand out the bags as they encounter homeless people on the roughly three-mile walk from Duquesne to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Shown left to right is Bill Klewien, director of college communication and undergraduate recruitment, freshman Jordan Callahan, 19, of Scott, sophomore Megan Bohatch, 19, of Plum, Kate Lecci, Spiritan campus minister and Giovan Cuchapin, Spiritan campus minister.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Organizers and students pack 35 “hope bags” on Duquense Campus, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. The bags were prepared for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage walk where participants hand out the bags as they encounter homeless people on the roughly three-mile walk from Duquesne to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Shown left to right is Bill Klewien, director of college communication and undergraduate recruitment, freshman Jordan Callahan, 19, of Scott, sophomore Megan Bohatch, 19, of Plum, Kate Lecci, Spiritan campus minister and Giovan Cuchapin, Spiritan campus minister.
Thirty-five 'Hope bags' were prepared for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage walk  where participants hand out the bags as they encounter homeless people on the roughly three-mile walk from Duquesne University  to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Thirty-five 'Hope bags' were prepared for the Year of Mercy pilgrimage walk where participants hand out the bags as they encounter homeless people on the roughly three-mile walk from Duquesne University to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

Megan Bohatch is eager to spend the day after the election without political turmoil and discord, instead joining several dozen fellow college students on a “pilgrimage” across the heart of Pittsburgh in the name of mercy and unity.

“I know just speaking with other students, there's a lot of division, and this is an opportunity for all of us to just do something together,” said Bohatch, 19, of Plum, a sophomore international relations major at Duquesne University.

Duquesne and Carlow universities, private schools rooted in the Catholic tradition, teamed to organize a “Door of Mercy” three-mile walk Wednesday evening from Duquesne's Uptown campus to St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland, in celebration of the final days of the Catholic Church's Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis designated the special holy year to run Dec. 8, 2015, through Nov. 20, and Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik designated St. Paul Cathedral as a local pilgrimage site.

“This is a concrete way of being one with other people, and it's also to help people basically express their faith in action,” said Giovan Cuchapin of Duquesne's Spiritan Campus Ministry Center.

Along the route, which organizers estimate will take about 90 minutes to traverse, participants will offer to homeless people they encounter “hope bags,” 1-gallon plastic bags containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, crackers, cookies and a personal letter from organizers who prepared them last week.

“It doesn't matter if you're Catholic, Baptist, it doesn't matter what your race is; if you're in need, you're in need,” Cuchapin said, “and you're part of one big family of unity for everybody.”

The pilgrimage — which is open to the public — is in line with a celebration this weekend in Rome, when Francis will host about 6,000 homeless and impoverished people during a three-day festival organized by the European-based Fratello organization , a charitable group.

“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life,” Francis said in his April 2015 homily announcing the holy year. Francis added that it's “sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases, the word seems to have dropped out of use.”

This past summer, the Diocese of Pittsburgh took about 140 teens and young adults on a pilgrimage to Poland, where they stayed with local families, did service projects and welcomed the pope.

“People are embracing (the year of mercy) because they see it in the pope who's living it, and it's exciting,” said Gary Roney, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Pilgrimages and hands-on projects appeal to youths and young adults, whom Pew Research Center data show are turning away from organized religion in droves and demanding “authentic” experiences to fuel their faith.

“It's easy to get young people to sign up for service and mission opportunities,” Roney said. “They want to get their hands dirty and get into the mission work versus being told what to do. They still think they can change the world — and they should.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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