For Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, hearing the words of Pope Francis is like being taken back in time to when he first experienced his “original call” to serve the Church through the priesthood. “When I hear our Holy Father speaking, I feel like I’m going back on retreat. I’m going back to when I first was drawn to become a priest,” the president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference said at a Sept. 26 press conference in Philadelphia. While he said this is true of the Pope’s words in general, Archbishop Kurtz identified one particularly powerful moment from the pontiff’s Sept. 26 Mass that was “especially insightful and certainly rewarding to me.” The Holy Father recalled the words of Pope Leo XIII to St. Katharine Drexel when she voiced concern over the state of the missions: “What about you? What will you do?” It was these words that inspired her to become a missionary and eventually found a religious order. These words became an invitation and a challenge for each person in the room, Archbishop Kurtz said. “I heard it, and it reminded me of my own vocation and call to be renewed in service of others.” “I would say that our Holy Father tends, wherever he can, to point us to the Lord Jesus…and then to point us to return to the original call, the original zeal,” he reflected. Archbishop Kurtz highlighted several other moments from the first half of the papal trip that he found striking. While the Pope has spoken before about care, the archbishop noted that on this trip he talked specifically about a “culture of care.” In the archbishop’s view, this was similar to the saying, “You are what you eat.” In this case, he reflected, the Pope “seems to say, ‘You will find your identity in the manner in which you care for others.’ And I thought that was pretty powerful.” He also pointed to the Holy Father’s message at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York: “Don’t get tired of reaching out,” as well as what he saw as a mutual sense of encouragement when the Pope entered the upper shrine in D.C., filled with thousands of seminarians and novices for religious orders. “And so I also see him telling us, be alive as a Church.” Archbishop Kurtz described the Pope’s visit as engaging not only the intellect, but the entire person. He recalled two priests who work at the United Nations telling him that speeches delivered there often get no applause and very little reaction. But in the case of Pope Francis’ address, the archbishop said, “I think I’ve seen the touching of the heart.” This was also true at the Pope’s visit to the school in Harlem, where the emotion of the people was clearly visible, he continued. “There’s a palpable enthusiasm. There’s a desire to reach out,” he said, comparing the excitement in the room to children eager to open presents on Christmas morning. Commenting on the Mass at Madison Square Garden, he added that the New York Rangers — the local hockey team that plays at that arena — “would have loved the applause for their team that the Holy Father was getting at the end of Mass.” With thousands of people lining the streets in each city, hoping for just a glimpse of the Pope as he passed by, Archbishop Kurtz said that he was “swept up” in the experience. He voiced gratitude that he was truly able to enjoy each moment in the presence of the Holy Father, without worrying about the next thing on the agenda. “It’s like going on retreat for me.”
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