By Ruby Thomas and Marnie McAllister, Record Staff Writers
From the moment Pope Francis stepped onto the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, it seemed that wherever the pontiff went during his historic visit to the United States, Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz was there.
As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop Kurtz served as the pope’s official host and traveled in his entourage throughout the five-day visit.
The archbishop found the visit thrilling and renewing, he told local media Sept. 29.
“In many ways, being with him is like being on a retreat, where I go back to the original call that I felt to become a priest,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “You go back to your first fervor — we used to call it — that first enthusiasm in wanting to serve.
“When I’m in the presence of the Holy Father I feel called to do that, to be renewed in my zeal, my humility, all the qualities he talks about and that he actually models in his life,” the archbishop said.
Several other prominent people from Louisville had the opportunity to be part of the pope’s visit. Mayor Greg Fischer was among the 20,000 or so who witnessed a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House to welcome the pope.
Among those who sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives, as Pope Francis became the first pope to address a joint session of Congress Sept. 24, were Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth and former U.S. Congressman Romano Mazzoli.
Thousands more gathered outside the Capitol to hear the pope’s address. Among them was Father Patrick Delahanty, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Father Joseph Voor, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, concelebrated the canonization Mass of St. Junípero Serra with the pope Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C.
In Philadelphia, several deacons and their wives and a few lay people from the Archdiocese of Louisville were among the million or so pilgrims who filled the city streets for a vigil and Mass with the pope Sept. 26 and 27.
The excitement generated by Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia flowed hundreds of miles down to the Archdiocese of Louisville where many celebrated his visit in their own way.
Schools celebrated the papal visit
Several schools held “watch parties” during the pope’s speeches and took part in special projects to celebrate the pontiff’s visit.
St. Edward School, 9608 Sue Helen Drive, focused on the pope’s visit to Philadelphia and his participation in the World Meeting of Families. Each student was allowed to invite two “special people” for lunch during the week of the pope’s visit.
“As a school, we wanted families to feel included and welcome,” said a statement from Megan Clark, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Edward. Religion teachers also spent the week discussing the family, said Clark.
St. Edward also launched “Brave Buddies” a new program which pairs students from different classes in order for them to “grow and support each other.”
“The Brave Buddies program was intentionally set for this week to promote that we as a school are also a family,” said Clark.
At Holy Trinity School, 423 Cherrywood Road, students in pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade took part in a variety of activities to mark the pope’s U.S. visit. Preschool students spent time studying the life of the pope, “his job,” “his family” and “his interests.”
Each student took home a “Flat Francis” — a picture of the pope placed on a stick which was inspired by the book “Flat Stanley.” The students “carried him around this past week to share in their adventures,” said a statement from the school.
Kindergartners through eighth-graders watched broadcasts of the pope’s speeches and visits around U.S. cities. While watching these broadcasts, fifth-graders made “divine twine” rope rosaries for use in October, which is national rosary month.
Holy Trinity’s sixth-grade class focused on Pope Francis’ message to care for refugees. A statement from the school said students “welcomed refugees from Bhutan and Iraq to learn more about their travels and new life in Louisville.”
The sixth-graders will continue to work with Catholic Charities for the remainder of the year to welcome refugees.
Other schools that took part in activities included:
- At Presentation Academy students watched the pope’s historic address to Congress.
- Students at St. Aloysius School in Pewee Valley, Ky., made brochures noting reasons their school is worthy of a visit from the pope; students studied and re-designed the pope’s Coat of Arms and third-graders hosted a “Pope Party.”
- Faculty members at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., took part in a “Pope Francis for Educators” retreat in preparation for the pontiff’s visit. Bethlehem’s broadcasting class produced a show about the pope.
- Students at Our Lady of Lourdes School held a special prayer service, created art projects, created mini books filled with questions they’d like to ask the pope and read quotes from the pope every day of the visit.
Community support for the pope
Throughout the five-day visit, school children were not the only ones who shared in the excitement. His message, most recently on care for creation, delivered through his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” has resonated with people regardless of their faith.
On Sept. 24 dozens took part in an interfaith rally in downtown Louisville to show support for Pope Francis’ call to care for creation. A similar rally took place in Springfield, Ky., that same day.
The event, titled “One World, One Family: Standing with Francis,” was organized in Louisville by Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light. Interfaith leaders from across the city spoke about the urgency to heed the pope’s call to take action to protect the environment.
“Pope Francis’ message speaks to the souls of people. You don’t need to be Catholic or even Christian,” said Sharon Grant, a member of St. William Church who attended the rally. “His message speaks to the depths of who we are as human beings.”
F. Bruce Williams, pastor of Bates Memorial Baptist Church, who spoke at the rally, is one of those non-Catholics who find the pope appealing.
“His disposition is so non-judgemental,” said Pastor Williams. “The pope’s emphasis on helping the poor, something so often missing out of public discourse, is appealing to me.”
The pope’s message on social justice, his “emphasis on ecumenical cooperation” and his “common sense emphasis” on the health and future of the environment are inspiring, too, the pastor said. “He’s a figure that brings people together.”