By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — In the face of "the heartbreaking crises and challenges in our world," Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the "pastor’s presence" exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, "touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between."
The talk by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the annual USCCB fall general assembly in Baltimore, which was to include discussion of political responsibility, religious freedom, pornography and other topics.
Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of "presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It’s seeing the person first."
"Our hearts respond to (the pope’s) call to be pastors who are present, welcoming and eager to walk with our people," he added.
The archbishop said the updated document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," which was to come up for a vote at the meeting, sums by the challenges confronting the bishops.
"We face the ongoing destruction of over 1 million innocent human lives each year by abortion; the redefinition of marriage; the excessive consumption of material goods and destruction of natural resources; the deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world; the narrowing of religious freedom … economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor; a broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis; wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity," Archbishop Kurtz said.
He said the role of the bishops "as a conference in our public actions" was to "seek to be a presence in the public square — always seeking the common good and making room for faith to act — never imposing but always inviting, serving."
"Our calling is to be present in this world, in the very places where people are hurting the most," the archbishop said. "What a great tragedy it will be if our ministries are slowly secularized or driven out of the public square because of short-sighted laws or regulations that limit our ability to witness and serve consistent with our faith."
He closed his talk with a prayer that "we don’t lose our presence in the public square to a misguided secularization that reduces faith to the least common denominator and erodes the very richness of belief that impels people of faith to serve unselfishly those most in need."
On a more personal note, Archbishop Kurtz spoke of his brother Georgie, who had Down syndrome and "served as a glue in our family, drawing out love and service, forcing us to slow down, ask for help and focus on time together."
"In fact, when he lived with me, he brought those same gifts to my rectory life and drew the other priests and me together into a makeshift family," he added
Before Archbishop Kurtz spoke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, spoke at length about the importance of Catholic
education in the United States, both historically and in the present day.
In the past, the "main tool" of Catholic evangelization was the building of parishes with their own schools, where "solid Catholic information" could be imparted to those "who would take their place in America’s future," he said.
At this "critical point for family life in our Western world," he encouraged the bishops to provide strong support for families and for Catholic schools that remain true to their Catholic identity.
"You have a tremendous obligation to look out for and protect families and schools for the good of the people," the archbishop said. "You are compelled to proclaim the Gospel message in season and out of season."
The product of a Jesuit education in Milan, Italy, and in Rome, Archbishop Vigano called especially on the Jesuits to remain true to their "long and rich tradition of imparting the Catholic faith" and to safeguard the Catholic identity of their educational institutions.