August 30, 2016
The West Texas Catholic: Bishop Zurek, let’s talk about your attendance at your fifth World Youth Day. What made this particular WYD different from previous celebrations that you attended in Cologne, Sydney, Madrid and Rio?
Bishop Patrick J. Zurek: I’m not sure how to answer that, Chris. Just as you were articulating the question, I did think that one thing that did make the difference was the spiritual presence of St. John Paul II. Everywhere we went there was a super-human statue of now St. John Paul II. They were in Krakow, in many places, in Jasna Gora, Poland, the great Marian Shrine overlooking everything. That was super-human size. In front of some of the stores they had bronze statues. I don’t think they were for sale; I think they were just proud of their saint.
The other Polish saint who was canonized not too long ago, St. Faustina Kowalska, was from Krakow. I actually got to go to the shrine, the church where her relics are kept. Afterwards, after we stood in line and we prayed, it was raining so we couldn’t leave. I was due to leave for Prague the next day. All of a sudden a door opened next to us. It was a cloister and there were several nuns there talking with the Panama delegation about the next WYD taking place there in 2019. I just stood there in the door frame and called a sister over. I asked in Czech if there was a possibility of seeing the shrine of Sr. Faustina. She answered in Polish, “We will see.”
Before we knew it we were in the room where she lived and where she died. They had many of her personal items there—relics, her prayer book, an image of Divine Mercy, a crucifix and things like that. We prayed and as we finished, or sister assumed we were finished, I went for broke. The moral is “don’t be timid; ask the question.” I asked if she, by any chance, had a relic of Sr. Faustina. She said “Well I don’t know. I can find out.” Then she left. In the meantime another sister came and gave us sweets and coffee. And before we knew it, another sister walked in; I call her Sister of the Relics and she had a relic for us. It was very unusual to have that kind of visit and I thought to get the relic was unheard of at this point.
WTC: You were in attendance at a special meeting with the Polish bishops and the pope in at the Shrine of Czestochowa. Let’s talk about that.
Bishop Zurek: Miracle of miracles! That was a gathering planned only for the Polish bishops. I called Father Mitch (Prezepiora) and asked if he could help us get to Jasna Gora. The problem was transportation; many of the roads were closed because of security. We also wanted to go to Auschwitz and to Birkenau. Father Mitch called a priest friend who had some parishioners who were from Poland. Bingo! We (Father Haider Quintero and I) got permission for a car and a driver to go there. We also got an invitation to go to the Shrine of Czestochowa. I got permission to celebrate the Mass with them, on the upper platform, about 10 yards from the Pope. This was very close for a papal function. Father Haider and I were both able to concelebrate which made it very special. I had been there before, but it was marvelous to be at the Marian Shrine of
Czarna Madonna, the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. We were there one afternoon and evening and the next day until about mid-afternoon. That was a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage.
WTC: Let’s talk about our diocesan delegation and your experience with them. I know that, since you have been bishop, it is a tradition that you celebrate Mass with our World Youth Day delegation.
Bishop Zurek: The first WYD I went to was in Cologne. I noticed there were lots of venues where catechesis was going on. There were bigger gatherings but most of it in parishes, as in for instance in our cathedral, holding 1,000 people. Catechesis is given, devotion is had, Mass is celebrated, homily given and then you stay with the young people and have lunch. That sort of withered away after Sydney and you went to larger venues. There were 5, 10 to 15,000 for catechesis and that did not seem to be as intimate or effective. After our experiences, I suggested to Oscar Guzman, our diocesan youth director, that our group get together and have Mass. Across from our hotel was a church named after a Jesuit saint who was baptized in that church, which had great significance for the people and for the Jesuit community there. The Mass was wonderful. I gave catechesis and we had discussion and a little something to eat and drink afterwards. We also did that in Rio.
In Krakow, we tried to gather in a church. Sometimes because people are so possessive, it is very difficult to find a church where we can say a Mass. This time we were in a chapel created for the bishops in our hotel. It was Friday, July 29, the Feast of St. Martha. About 40 or so people joined us. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful Masses. We had a little singing, maybe two or three songs. The sense of spirituality of the young people was so wonderful. I gave a catechetical homily, a little longer than usual by design, because they were skipping a catechetical session, and I had to make up for that. The youth were so attentive, so with it; I could not have been more proud of them.
WTC: Reflect for a moment about that spirituality. One of the things we saw when we got pictures back from our delegation were of the kids kneeling on the marble floors in the Polish churches. That display of piety and Faith had to touch you as a bishop.
Bishop Zurek: Not only me, but they gave witness to each other, not only ours but youth from around the world. You could tell by facial structure, color and the languages they spoke. One particularly struck me, but this is exemplary of almost any church you would have walked into. They had moved the Blessed Sacrament from the adoration chapel, which probably held 50 people, to a larger area, that held about 200 people. It was separated from the rest of the church, cordoned off so that it would be a prayer site. We are talking about rock, or granite or marble flooring that is centuries old. It is not level; a lot of it is chipped out, worn out. I was kneeling on it and it was hard—no cushion, no rug, no kneeler—just a hard floor.
The young people were almost in ecstasy. It was no show; it was genuine and incredible. They were in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and you could see the inspiration on their faces, their Faith, their piety. And yet they were well aware of what was going on around them. They weren’t stuck in their own little world. I remember a couple of instances in one church, an old man and an old woman were trying to get into or out of the pew. The kneeler is attached to the pew with a 2x4. If you shuffle when you walk you would have a problem getting over that. When the youth would hear the shuffling they would see the person and get up to help them get into the pew. Then they would go right back and kneel in prayer. That happened all over Poland.
Afterward, I went to Prague; I wanted to meet with Cardinal (Dominik) Duka, OP, to go over some things we are dealing with from the USCCB in regards to aid to Central Europe. He invited us to stay with him. We were in the old town, right across from the cathedral, the old court. Just down the hill toward the Vltava River, is the church of Our Lady of Victory and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague. It’s a beautiful church, medium sized for them probably seating 7 to 800. It was packed with pilgrims, an Italian group while we were there. The kids were singing their hearts out, pious, attentive as usual. Before and after Mass the kids would go into the side chapel and it was the same experience. People asked how I knew they were pilgrims. It’s the telltale sign, the yellow backpack given to WYD pilgrims. We went down to the old town square to another beautiful church, filled with pilgrims too. There was no Mass going on at that one but that didn’t stop the young people from praying, kneeling down wherever, and just entering into that deep spiritual communing, surrounded by people.
This is the comment that I have been making people since my return: “If you are worried about the Church having a future, when you go to events like WYD, you see the piety of the people and you see young people from the entire world, every culture you could think of, language group, color of skin, customs, ethnic background, all so different, yet united in our One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Faith.” You could see the deep devotion in their eyes, their inspiration, their joy, wherever they went. If you are worried about the church of the future, worried about your country, whatever country it is, think about the young people. There are enough of them to be a catalyst throughout the entire world. Because there are enough of them their witness will have a powerful effect. I have no doubt the Church has a bright future in the countries in which they live and grow up. They will have a bright future also.