Pittsburgh bishop among Western Pennsylvanians on hand for canonization

Bishops attend the canonization Mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in Vatican City.
Bishops attend the canonization Mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in Vatican City.
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| Sunday, April 27, 2014, 11:15 p.m.

Bishop David Zubik was praying on Sunday morning at the tomb of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica. Outside, more than 800,000 people, many of whom had camped overnight, waited in a drizzle for the canonization of John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

Zubik asked the pope to intercede with Jesus so that he might become a better bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Then, the Beaver County native felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Not bad for a kid from Ambridge,” teased Deacon Michael Conway, a student in Rome whom the bishop will ordain in June.

Zubik responded, “Not bad for a kid from Overbrook.”

More than 4,000 miles from Pittsburgh, the first canonization of two popes on the same day brought Western Pennsylvanians together in faith.

“People during (John XXIII's) time and John Paul II's time recognized a great strength of sanctity there. They had such an impact on the world,” Zubik said.

Sitting in the eighth row of bishops and cardinals, he celebrated Mass with 750 bishops. Spectators stretched beyond the Tiber River, waved the flags of their country and prayed aloud in numerous languages. Most were so far away they watched the ceremony on giant televisions.

This marks the third canonization Zubik has attended. He went to Rome for the canonization of Sts. Jeanne Jugan and Damien in 2011 and St. Gianna in 2006.

His connection to the newest saints began with the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958, when Zubik was in fourth grade. He recalled hearing the tolling of the school bells on the bus in eighth grade upon the pope's death.

The link to John Paul is more personal. Once, on a trip to Rome after being named bishop, the Swiss Guards recognized from his purple hat that he was a bishop and invited him to meet with the pontiff. Dressed in a black raincoat and black suit without the proper attire for a bishop, Zubik apologized to the pope. But John Paul would have none of it.

“ ‘I don't care how you're dressed,' ” he recalled the pope telling him. “ ‘I'm just glad you're here.' ”

Kathleen Gustine of Peters and her sister, Dr. Sheila Anderson of Eighty Four, were among 88 Western Pennsylvania residents who made the pilgrimage to Rome together for the canonization.

“I found it fascinating that where we were standing there were people all over the world that came just to be there,Gustine said. “It was an event that transcended any national issue. We were there to witness something that may not happen again for a very long time — to have two popes being canonized.”

In Lower Burrell, a crowd of about 50 gathered at St. Margaret Mary Church to view an afternoon replay of the ceremony and share their feelings on the former pontiffs.

It was the final installation of a four-part series put together by the Rev. Daniel Ulishney, who came to St. Margaret Mary in June as the regional parochial vicar. The series, he said, was designed to focus on the lives, papacies and canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII while bringing together parishioners from St. Margaret Mary and the three New Kensington churches he serves.

“This series gives the people in the area an opportunity to connect with one another and encounter our new saints,” said Ulishney, 27. “These two popes were very human. People made very strong connections with them. They still remember them in life, and I think that makes it even more personal on this important day in the Catholic Church.”

Staff writer Braden Ashe contributed to this report. Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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