By AMANDA BEAM
NEW ALBANY —
Highlighting two men of hope and humility, Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz spoke to a packed room on Thursday at the Cardinal Ritter House in New Albany. Kurtz addressed the crowd on the anniversary of Pope Francis’s ascension to the papacy and discussed, among other matters, how his pastoral style has “taken the world by storm.”
One of the most prominent archbishops in the country, Kurtz had just flown in from New York that day after a “CBS Morning Show” appearance on the same subject. The talk also comes on the eve of President Barack Obama’s first trip to meet Pope Francis on March 27 at the Vatican as well as a recent invitation to the pope from congressional leaders to visit Washington, D.C.
Using his own conversational manner and modesty, the archbishop described why he thought the current pope had so much appeal to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“The genius, if you would, of Pope Francis ... would be at the time he has said so much about the intimate link, simple but profound, between faith and serving,” Kurtz said. “Faith that does not overflow into serving others is a faith that is weak and empty. And serving others that is not infused and in sense shaped by our faith is a service that will not be long blessed.”
In addition, Kurtz connected Pope Francis’s manner to that of New Albany native Cardinal Joseph Ritter. Both men, he said, found it easy to connect and minister to others, in part, through their modest approach to life.
“(Pope Francis) said ‘I’m simply trying to follow Christ.’ And the more he talks in humility, the more people are interested,” Kurtz said. “It’s because when he comes into the presence of someone, his focus is on that person. And we all want to be noticed and acknowledged. There’s something deeply human in that ... These are the qualities that remarkably seem to have been in the life of Cardinal Ritter.”
Known best for desegregating Catholic schools in Indianapolis and St. Louis as well as his participation in the Second Vatican Council, Ritter died in 1967. But his legacy of service continues through the Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation, the organization that hosted the event. Volunteers from the nonprofit served hot mugs of Irish coffee complete with Jameson whiskey to the audience.
During the presentation, Kurtz also touched on his work within the Catholic Church. As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the archbishop helps support the ministry of other bishops while, according to its Facebook page, “striving to promote the greater good the Church offers humankind.”
Currently, the USCCB continues to focus on certain objectives, Kurtz said. Embracing the new evangelization of Pope Francis, the group first wants worshipers to know that spreading God’s word remains the work of every follower.
“Everything we do, the way we announce the gospel by our lives, is a work of evangelization,” he said. “We don’t force our faith on others. But, boy, we better make sure when we serve other people we are consistent in our faith, that we don’t compromise our faith.”
Being a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable and defending religious freedoms completed the list.
“Religious groups are not the only ones who serve, but faith for decades for centuries has enriched public life. If we lose the gift of our faith, we will lose the capacity to sustain the common good,” Kurtz said. “So we do this not just because we want to be religious. We do this because we want to be good citizens.”
Kurtz also chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Marriage and Family Life. In October, he’ll be traveling to the Vatican for the Synod of Bishops which will examine issues relating to family life. In addition to these duties, the archbishop recently received a papal appointment to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.