Hope in the Lord — The St. Jerome picnic

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro often talked to me about Fancy Farm and the famous St. Jerome Parish Picnic, which celebrated its 134th anniversary this year. For nearly 100 of those years, it has provided a great political event for Kentucky — one that attracts virtually every person running for office in Kentucky and more than 10,000 others.

Well, lo and behold, a few months ago Father Darrell Venters, pastor of St. Jerome Parish, wrote in the name of the planners, Mark and Lori Wilson, to invite me to speak after the opening prayer and before the political rhetoric began. I was delighted at the invitation and made my way west 10 days ago — carpooling for a good part of it with Bishop (William) Medley, who offered the opening prayer.

What a great opportunity to see a large slice of Americana and politics at work — right at the time that the U.S. bishops are taking up a revision of faithful citizenship.

Let me share with you the three messages I gave and which the large crowd (I am told about 5,000 of the 15,000 picnic attendees that day) received with kindness and respect.

United we stand; divided we fall

Beginning with our powerful Kentucky motto, I announced that we good citizens of Kentucky, like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, call ourselves a “commonwealth.” One dictionary definition describes a commonwealth as “one founded on law and united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the common good.”

The motto of the Commonwealth of Kentucky makes clear that more important than any personal or individual gain from participating in the democratic process and specifically in running for office and voting, the good citizen considers the common good — the common wealth — the welfare of all.

God made us to live in community. Thus concern about others, which politics urges, is part of our DNA. In addition, this concern about others that should be fundamental to politics is born and nourished in healthy families, and so strong families and strong local communities are essential to a healthy and vibrant political order.

Free to serve

I returned to our recent celebration of the 4th of July and, for the Catholic Church in the USA, this marked the completion of the 3rd annual “Fortnight for Freedom,” the 14 days of prayer, study, and positive action to cherish and protect the religious freedom that is ours in America.

“Freedom to Serve” was the theme for the Fortnight this year, and it reflects the insight that America is at her best when she encourages persons of all faiths to serve. In my homily at the National Shrine in Washington D.C. on the 4th of July, I said: “From the very beginning of our nation, people of faith have had a profound impact on the life and fabric of our nation precisely because we have used this freedom to serve others.”

Just think of the thousands of religious communities, charities, and hospitals sponsored by religious communities putting faith into action — reaching out to the most vulnerable and those without a voice in our midst. How proud we can be of the way in which people of faith and people of good will have used their freedom well — to serve others!

As we both cherish and protect our religious freedom, we are well aware of parts of our world in which great threats to religious freedom exist. Please join me in prayer and action for peace as we seek a path of freedom for those persecuted around the world. Likewise, if we do not cherish and protect this first freedom, we all will suffer.

Faith enriches public life

Finally I reminded the audience of the powerful insight that people of faith enrich public life. Just as America is at her best when people of faith serve others, so also is America at her best when people of faith and people of good will bring our moral and civic convictions with us to the political arena.

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, while safeguarding that no religion is imposed on citizens, provides the assurance and protection to the free exercise of our religion. We bring those convictions with us when we enter into public life and allow our actions to be shaped by them.

It was a thrill to visit Fancy Farm for the first time. I pray that it will help all of us good citizens to take part in our commonwealth — seeking always the common good.

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