By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Pope Francis came across as warm and inviting during a 30-minute meeting at the Vatican Oct. 7, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of his first encounter with the pontiff.
“Our Holy Father is pretty much as you would imagine,” the archbishop said during a phone interview Oct. 11. “He is a very warm, humble and inviting person.”
The encounter was part of a week-long meeting of the officers of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Vatican. In addition to Archbishop Kurtz, who is the vice president of the conference, the papal meeting included Cardinal Timothy Dolan, conference president; Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, its general secretary; and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, associate general secretary.
The group met with a variety of Vatican congregations or departments while in Rome in advance of the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops, set for Nov. 11-14 in Baltimore.
Archbishop Kurtz said he spent some time in prayer and reflection on Oct. 8, wondering to himself, “How, of all the ways, to describe (Pope Francis’) presence?”
He realized the answer was quite simple:
“I would like to have someone like Pope Francis as my pastor,” he said. “He is a parish priest that’s become the pope.
“I don’t know, in all his responsibilities, if he ever was formally assigned as a parish priest,” the archbishop noted. “But he has all the qualities of a parish pastor at his best.”
At the 30-minute meeting, during which the officers sat at a desk opposite Pope Francis, the pope was interested in hearing what the church is like in the United States, Archbishop Kurtz said.
He said he couldn’t describe in detail everything they addressed, but among the topics were items to be discussed at the fall bishops’ meeting.
“We talked about the new evangelization. We talked about the challenge of religious liberty. We talked about vocations,” the archbishop said. “People who are following issues in the church would not be surprised.
“We didn’t want to use this time simply as a work session,” he said. “The tone of the conversation was not at all formal, it was very informal. The Holy Father set an atmosphere that showed he really wanted conversation. He wanted to listen and learn.”
The pontiff seemed to “listen with his heart,” he said.
Referring to recent interviews with the media, the archbishop said the pope “calls on us ‘to heal wounds and warm hearts.’ That’s the sentiment you feel.”
“The national press can pick up things in a sensational way,” Archbishop Kurtz noted. “But you and I know, reading the text (of interviews) tells us, he’s speaking to shake up our lives and communicate how urgent it is reach out to others.”
But the pope “takes very seriously his responsibility to pass on and preserve our church teaching,” he said. The pope is interested in “finding new and creative ways to do so. I think he used the word creative a few times.”
In addition, the pope expressed “his great interest in promoting the homily as an important way for people to know their priest and their deacons,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Kurtz noted that the pope has modeled good homiletics during his daily homilies at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. He described the pope’s homilies as “vivid, grounded in the lives of people” and noted that he speaks in a way that people understand.
“The charism of a diocesan priest is to live in the midst of the people you serve,” the archbishop said. “I get the sense that Pope Francis has that desire on his part — to live with the people you serve.“ (Another story concerning the bishops’ meeting with Pope Francis can be found on page 8.)