July 6, 2007

Archbishop Kurtz receives pallium from Pope Benedict XVI

By Dan Conway (Special to The Criterion)

ROME—On June 29, the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the pallium, an ancient sign of unity, on newly appointed Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and 45 other archbishops from various regions of the world at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

As the readings and prayers of the feast day Mass made clear, unity is an essential element of the bishop’s ministry.

In fact, every bishop is called to be a sign of unity. In his diocese, the bishop’s ministry unites him with the entire Catholic community in each parish. Beyond his diocese, the bishop joins his diocesan community—the local Church—with the Church of Rome and with all the other dioceses throughout the world.

According to Archbishop Kurtz, most people don’t realize how much of a bishop’s time and attention must be given to matters that concern the needs of the Church beyond diocesan boundaries, but this is a critically important part of the bishop’s ministry.

An archbishop who serves as metropolitan receives a distinctive call to promote unity over and above his ordinary duties as the bishop of a diocese. The metropolitan archbishop is called to promote unity in the various dioceses that make up his region or province. So, when Archbishop Kurtz is formally installed as Archbishop of Louisville on Aug. 15, he will also accept additional responsibility for promoting unity and solidarity among the seven dioceses in Tennessee and Kentucky that form the Louisville Province.

Archbishop Kurtz views the call to unity in Christ as absolutely central to the bishop’s ministry—both within his diocese and beyond.

“The role of metropolitan is a charism,” he said. “It is a gift that exists for the sake of pastoral unity among neighboring dioceses and with our Holy Father, the bishop of Rome.”

Like any gift from God, the charism of unity which the pallium symbolizes requires good stewardship. It must be nurtured carefully and shared generously among all the people of God.

Archbishop Kurtz emphasized that “Christ is the source of our unity, not the bishop.” But he quickly added that “joining others to Christ in love and in truth is what the ministry of a bishop is all about.”

Only the pope and metropolitan archbishops wear the pallium because they alone have the distinctive responsibility to promote the Church’s unity beyond diocesan boundaries.

According to Pope Benedict, “This vestment reminds bishops, as vicars of Christ in their local Churches, that they are called to be shepherds after the heart of Jesus.”

The burden—or charism—that metropolitan archbishops receive as shepherds especially called to promote the unity of the Church challenges and invites them to be faithful guardians or stewards of the Catholic community’s oneness in Christ.

Archbishop Kurtz said that he has had an excellent model in Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who served as metropolitan archbishop of the Louisville Province for more than 25 years.

“Archbishop Kelly brought us together as bishops,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “He united us in prayer, fraternal support and friendship. When the bishops of our province were called together by Archbishop Kelly four times each year, we didn’t talk much business. Instead, we talked about our faith, our love for our people, and the pastoral issues and concerns that we share as spiritual leaders in our dioceses.”

How will Archbishop Kurtz exercise his new responsibility as metropolitan? If the day he received the pallium is any indication, it will be with great energy and enthusiasm.

Immediately following the ceremony, the new archbishop, who is an athlete, carefully removed his liturgical garments— including the new pallium—and put on his jogging clothes. He then went for an extended run through the streets of Rome.

Promoting unity in diversity. Joining others to Christ in love and in truth. Being a model of wisdom and grace with humility and pastoral sensitivity to the needs of his people. These are the charisms that are given to the new archbishop, under the symbol of the pallium, to help him carry out his distinctive role as a sign of unity in his new archdiocese, in the province and in the universal Church.

“May this pallium be for you a symbol of unity and a sign of communion with the Apostolic See,” the pope said.

(Dan Conway is president of RSI Catholic Services Group.) †

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