In responding to crises faced by modern families, the Church must work to restore hope and confidence that the call of the Gospel can be lived out, the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference said. “We can’t deny the social and economic challenges families face today; they are deep-seated and powerful,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville acknowledged. “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.” The archbishop delivered remarks Nov. 10 at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly. He said that when he met recently with Pope Francis, the pontiff had voiced gratitude to the U.S. bishops for their service, faithful witness and prayers. Archbishop Kurtz encouraged the bishops to accompany those who struggle, seeking to affirm Church teaching and help people live it out when it is difficult. “As part of a family, we’re called to walk with our brothers and sisters, helping them to grow closer to Jesus through his mercy,” he said. “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.” The archbishop emphasized the need to “witness to the truths of our faith” as members of individual families and faith communities, in order to show, as Pope Francis has said, 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.” Noting that he had recently returned from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome, he said that his goals for the gathering had been “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.” Some positive steps were taken to advance these efforts, the archbishop said, particularly in the small group sessions at the synod, which he characterized as being “marked by fruitful discussion and unity of purpose.” Now, he noted, the final document from this gathering will serve as a starting point for the next synod in October 2015. “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.” Archbishop Kurtz voiced hope that these efforts to build witness, accompaniment and confidence will “help restore hope in the vocation of married couples and families.” “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,” he remarked, adding that the witness of these families is key in evangelizing. Pointing to the importance of “practical, on-the-ground support” and the proclamation of St. John Paul II’s vision of Theology of the Body, he stressed the need to seek out those who suffer in order to strengthen and accompany them. Evangelization must begin by encountering a person, spending time with them and seeing the good in their hearts, Archbishop Kurtz said. After that, the invitation to follow Christ and turn away from sin can be extended, along with an offer to accompany them along the way. “Such an approach isn't in opposition to Church teachings; it's an affirmation of them,” the archbishop stressed. “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.” The call to evangelize must lead us to go out and serve the “voiceless and vulnerable,” upholding their human dignity, the archbishop said. He pointed to the work of Church ministries including pregnancy resource centers, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the recent Respect Life Month that focused on the theme that “each person is a masterpiece of God’s creation.” The archbishop also commented on the importance of religious freedom in allowing the Church to serve others and witness to the 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,” he said. “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.” He called for prayer, solidarity and concrete action to defend those suffering for their faith in other countries. Looking ahead, Archbishop Kurtz said that he is anticipating the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year, which the Holy Father is expected to attend. In the months leading up to this event, the archbishop pointed to the words of Pope Francis, encouraging his brother bishops to be “joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.”
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