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USCCB November 2014 General Assembly Presidential Address


Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville
President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Address to the USCCB General Assembly on November 10, 2014

"Faithfully living the Gospel of the family: let's walk together"

Archbishop Vigano, brother bishops, friends all,

I had never met Paolo Rodari until he asked to sit down with me to talk about our families. Paolo is an Italian journalist, but this wasn't about an interview. He had heard that I'd helped care for my brother Georgie, who had Down syndrome, and he wanted to talk about his hopes and fears for his own brother, Giovanni, who also has Downs.

We met when I was in Rome for the Synod on the Family. While I speak very little Italian, and Paolo speaks only broken English, we were able to speak together of our brothers. "Does Giovanni read books?" I asked. Paolo said no."Does he watch TV?" "Ahhh, si!" And so they watch together, and this is one way for them to be together, just as it was with Georgie and me.

And then I wondered something else: "Is Giovanni hard to understand?" Paolo nodded. "But do you understand him?" I asked. Paolo smiled and nodded again. Paolo has learned to understand Giovanni, because they're family.

Today we come together as family. As part of a family, we're called to walk with our brothers and sisters, helping them grow closer to Jesus through His mercy. We're also called to give families hope in the abundant life promised by Jesus, inspiring their confidence in the truths of our faith by which we come to encounter Him.

We witness to the truths of our faith as members of our own families; as members of our family in faith; and as part of the great cloud of witnesses, a family standing together across time to call to those who are hurting; to let them know, as our Holy Father Pope Francis says, that the Church is "a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel." [1]

As you know, I come to you having recently returned, along with several of our brother bishops, from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome. My prayer for the Synod was that we would witness to the beauty of Church teachings on marriage; that we would deepen the way we accompany those struggling with the many challenges families face today; and that we would encourage – even inspire – married couples to have confidence in their ability to faithfully live the Gospel of the Family.

We took some positive steps at the Synod to advance those efforts, particularly in the hands-on work of the small groups. Those were marked by fruitful discussion and unity of purpose. We now have the final relatio to use as a working document as we prepare for the Synod next October. Looking ahead, we'll benefit by approaching these issues through the lens of Scripture and Sacred Tradition, informed by the experiences of those we serve as pastors.

It's my hope that these efforts begun at the Synod – to strengthen witness; to deepen accompaniment; and to renew confidence – will work together to help restore hope in the vocation of married couples and families. We can't deny the social and economic challenges families face today; they are deep-seated and powerful. Yet we know that hope in marriage is well-founded, a hope written on the hearts of men and women, a hope received in Christ, a hope that does not disappoint. [2]

We also know that children are gifts. We know that lifelong, faithful, fruitful marriages are well within reach and lead to an abundant life; we see it every day among the families we serve. Their joyful witness serves as a strength to all around them. We also see a consistent link between religious practice and strong marriages; a couple who prays together tends to stay together.

We can restore hope in marriage by calling forth such witnesses to help one another, and to help us accompany and encourage families with practical, on-the-ground support. We can work to better convey St. John Paul II's remarkable vision of marriage and family life as developed in his theology of the body.

And because, as St. John Paul II put it, "the Church is a home and a family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden,'"[3] we must especially seek out those who suffer under the weight of the difficulties faced by families today, remembering to see the person first, walking with them and pointing the way toward God.

We all strive to be faithful pastors, so we know what this looks like. Think of the home visits we've all done in parishes. When I'd come to someone's home, I wouldn't start by telling them how I'd rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn't begin by giving them a list of rules to follow.

Instead I'd first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts.I'd acknowledge that, like them, I was in the process of conversion toward greater holiness.I would then invite them to follow Christ and I'd offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way. Such an approach isn't in opposition to Church teachings; it's an affirmation of them. Our call as bishops is to bring the Good News to others as true missionary disciples, inspiring them to go forth and do the same.

I look forward to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next fall, where I anticipate we'll be joined by our Holy Father. I also anticipate we will each have opportunities to listen to and dialogue with families seeking to come closer to Christ. We should approach this year, as Pope Francis has said, as "joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel."[4]

This call to evangelization and encouragement necessarily leads us to "go out into the streets and manifest [God's] love."[5] The Gospel teaches us to do this by serving the voiceless and vulnerable. As our Holy Father reminds us, "even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor are masterpieces of God's creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect."[6]

Our recently-concluded Respect Life Month focused on this beautiful theme – that each person is a masterpiece of God's creation. It's at the heart of so many of our ministries – the work of our pro-life leaders, pregnancy resource centers, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services; and so many others – all upholding the dignity of each person. To all who seek to make Christ present, thank you. And to all of you here who work toward these goals in your various capacities, thank you. In fact, let me pause to say a big thank you to you, Msgr. Ron Jenkins, and to the fine staff of our national conference.You have been sterling in your leadership and service!

I also saw the good work of Catholic Relief Services first-hand when I traveled to the Philippines earlier this year in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. CRS and their Filipino partners continue to work tirelessly to provide food, water, shelter, and sanitation to those hardest hit. Cardinal Tagle pointed out that even amidst the devastation and suffering, the Filipino people were filled with the joy of the Gospel. I came away humbled and inspired by their witness.

The Gospel inspires us to serve those here at home as well through our schools, hospitals, and social service ministries. We've learned that religious freedom is essential to our freedom to serve others and thus to witness to our faith. Because of this, we'll continue to stand united in our commitment to religious liberty. We stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who simply want to serve others with integrity of faith.We'll continue to uphold religious liberty against government actions like the HHS mandate in order to protect our ability to fully witness to the Gospel.

We'll also continue to look for concrete ways to help defend the freedoms of those in other countries who suffer greatly, often simply because they attend church or are known as a follower of Jesus.Last year Cardinal Dolan highlighted this plight with the urgency it deserves.Thank you for your leadership, Cardinal Dolan.We continue to stand together in prayer and solidarity with those who witness to our faith amid persecution.

I'm grateful for your time away from home this week as we work on these efforts and more. When Cardinal DiNardo and I met with Pope Francis last month, our Holy Father also expressed his gratitude for your service, your faithful witness, and your prayers.

Speaking of prayer, I have to tell you that not once but twice during our visit with the Holy Father, he spontaneously inquired about the health of Cardinal George. I was eager to tell the Cardinal of our Holy Father's concern, so I picked up the phone and called Cardinal George immediately. I didn't realize that I was calling before 7:30 in the morning in Chicago! Of course he answered graciously and was delighted to get the news!

As we gather together this week we have much work at hand, yet we also come together to unite in prayer. We witness to the beauty of our faith when we join together in prayer in the Holy Hour that concludes each plenary meeting. Thank you, Bishop Mansour, for the reflections you'll offer then. Likewise, we witness to our continued need for conversion when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

And at the end of the day today we'll witness to our joy in Christ when we celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we recognize the 225th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese, now Archdiocese, of Baltimore, I congratulate you, Archbishop Lori, and thank you for your kind hospitality. We'll gather at the Basilica as a family around the Eucharist to encounter Jesus Christ and to gain strength to help others in the great work of building up families.

I mentioned Paolo Rodari and his brother Giovanni a few minutes ago. When we met, Paolo wondered what would happen to Giovanni when his mother was no longer there to care for him. I remember that same fear myself. As pastors, we accompany so many families who face their own fears and concerns, and who yearn to experience the love of Jesus in and through His loving family – the Church. Together, brothers, we seek to walk with these families and to build their confidence in faith.

Evangelizing means witnessing to our hope in Jesus. Let us live that witness every day, humbly confident in the goodness and truth and beauty of our faith, standing together as "one in Christ Jesus."[7]

[1] Evangelii Gaudium 114.

[2] Rom. 5:5.

[3] Familiaris Consortio 85.

[4] Evangelii Gaudium 168.



[7] Gal. 3:28.

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