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Local Pilgrims’ Flight to Australia Delayed 13 Hours

July 15, 2008

By Tony LaRussa, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 15–For weeks, organizers of a trip to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, have been telling the hundreds of young people from Pittsburgh making the nearly 10,000-mile trek that although they’ll have a good time, it’s not a vacation.

“We’ve been reinforcing the idea that this is a pilgrimage, a time to focus on prayer and sacrifice and a chance to deepen their spirituality,” said Caroline Roach, coordinator of youth ministry for St. Athanasius Church in West View.

But the more than 400 youngsters and adults, including Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, who boarded an early-morning flight from Pittsburgh on Sunday, got a chance to experience sacrifice even before they left the ground.

A mechanical glitch forced the 7 a.m. Northwest Airlines charter to be delayed 13 hours, according to JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

By the time a part the mechanics needed was obtained and repairs were made, a new crew had to be brought in for the intercontinental flight, Jenny said. The aircraft departed at 8 p.m.

To pass the time until takeoff, Zubik helped prepare the travelers for the festival.

“The bishop celebrated Mass and he and several priests heard confessions,” Roach said. “I think it was a great opportunity to put them in the right frame of mind for when they arrive in Sydney.”

On Saturday, the bishop went to the airport to celebrate Mass for several hundred people who were leaving on commercial flights to attend the event, which opens today and runs through Sunday.

With 616 local pilgrims attending World Youth Day, Pittsburgh has the most people of any diocese except the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney attending the event, according to the Pittsburgh diocese. An estimated 225,000 are expected to attend the 24th annual Catholic youth festival.

“I wanted to come out and celebrate Mass because we’re going to miss a whole day going over to Australia,” Zubik told WTAE-TV. “It’s just so good to be encouraging so many folks that are going on the trip.”

In addition to celebrating Mass and participating in a praise and worship concert led by someone who packed a guitar, the youths stranded at the airport Sunday passed the time with an impromptu volleyball game and a talent show.

Beth Dubyak of West View spoke with her daughter, Rosie Towchik, 17, shortly after the plane landed in Hawaii at 5:30 a.m. Monday.

“She told me they had taken over an entire concourse (at the Pittsburgh airport) and that even though the wait was long, everything went fine,” Dubyak said. “She said some of the kids were pooling the food vouchers the airlines gave them so they could buy better food to share.”

Dubyak said her daughter, who will be a senior at Oakland Catholic High School, is looking forward to participating in the large open-air papal Mass that will conclude the festival Sunday because she “wanted to meet Catholic kids from around the world and experience the energy they will give each other.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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