Seeing image of God in stranger, what it means to ‘stand for life’ says archbishop

Pilgrims, including a father and his young children, took part in the annual Walk for Life in downtown Louisville Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Those who’d gathered for Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption on Jan. 22 — the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision — heard that looking into the face of a stranger and seeing a person created in God’s image is what it truly means to stand for life.

The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz as part of a Day of Prayer for the Protection of Unborn Children. It followed the Archdiocese of Louisville’s annual Walk for Life.

The archdiocese usually sends a delegation of young people to the national Walk for Life held in Washington, D.C., each year to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the archdiocese marked the anniversary locally.

Pilgrims took part in the annual Walk for Life in downtown Louisville Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Archbishop Kurtz thanked the congregation of about 200 pilgrims for taking part in the Walk for Life and, by doing so, making a public statement about their beliefs.

“You walked publicly without knowing who might see you,” said Archbishop Kurtz.

The archbishop noted that he was ordained in March of 1972, so he hadn’t marked his first year as a priest when the Roe v. Wade decision was made in January of 1973. Yet, the archbishop said, he wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

Looking back, he’s not sure if it was a good letter, he said, but the important thing is, “It was a public act.”

“It was an act in which I declared myself,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “There are times we would like to live in the shadows and let other people act … not to be participants but to be spectators. But with the prolife movement, there are no spectators. …. You and I are modern apostles. We’ve been called as the Gospel message says and we’re being sent.”

Ed Harpring, coordinator of pro-life ministries, prayed the rosary before Mass Jan. 22 at the Cathedral of the Assumption. (Record Photo By Ruby Thomas)

What motivated him back in 1973 to write that letter, other than the fact that he was studying theology, was his brother George Kurtz, who was born with Down syndrome, he said.

“I was blessed with being able to put a face on human life. As long as human life remains abstract, as long as you don’t look into the eyes of a person, we can ignore them,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “But once we look into the eyes of a person whose life might be threatened” that is no longer the case.

For the archbishop, that person was his brother, who was five years older. Back then people held some negative beliefs about individuals like his brother, said the archbishop.

“They said that if you’re not able to accomplish the things this world considers important, then maybe I don’t need to pay attention, maybe I don’t need to look into your face. But God had a different plan,” he said.

George Kurtz lived to be almost 61-years-old and changed the archbishop’s life “for the better,” he said.

Father Martin Linebach, rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption, prayed during a Holy Hour before Mass Jan. 22. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Archbishop Kurtz called his listeners’ attention to the day’s first reading from the book of Hebrews, where God tells his people that he will make a new covenant with them, one that he will write upon their hearts.

“What that means is that even people without any education or people who don’t have any sense of Christ as their savior or know nothing about catechism … there’s something written in their hearts that they say, ‘You know, that’s not fair to take the life of an innocent child.’ That’s because God’s law is written in our hearts,” he said. “We can have noise going on in our lives that we don’t listen to what is in our hearts, but the covenant God made with his people in and through the blood of Christ says that in every human person God’s image and likeness lives and thrives.”

While standing up for life is “enriching,” it’s also not easy, the archbishop said.

He prayed for courage for those engaged in the pro-life movement as well as for the entire archdiocese.

“We ask that God will bless the archdiocese, that in every corner, in every one of the 110 parishes we will be a voice speaking on behalf of life, especially the innocent life of the child in the womb, but every human person,” said the archbishop. “You and I will show how changed we are when tomorrow we look into the face of a stranger and we see a person created in God’s image and likeness. That’s what it means to stand for life.”

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