Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says he has witnessed a strong desire for the Catholic Church among people in the United States.
“There are so many opportunities where people are thirsting: young people who are preparing for Confirmation, young adults who are searching, people of every age,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “There’s a great thirst, I think, of people to come to understand and to belong to the Church of Christ.”
He said the New Evangelization is an opportunity for Catholics to minister to those thirsting for truth with the same zeal as Jesus’ first apostles.
The archbishop spoke with CNA Feb. 20 in Rome. It was his first visit to the Vatican since his election as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference last November.
During the interview, Archbishop Kurtz outlined three steps to the New Evangelization in the United States. First, he said, Christians must experience a personal conversion.
“Our Holy Father says every one of us is in need of conversion, beginning with ourselves,” the archbishop stressed. “We are all in need of the grace of Jesus Christ to receive the Gospel.”
The next step is developing greater confidence in the power of the Gospel, he said. Christians must believe “that the power of the grace of Jesus Christ far exceeds any weakness on our part.”
Finally, after renewing personal conviction in the power of Christ, Christians must develop creative ways of sharing the Gospel.
“That's an exciting thing,” Archbishop Kurtz explained. “There's an adventure to that, in being able to find new ways to touch the hearts of people.”
The Pope has succeeded in doing this, he said, pointing to the “Pope Francis effect” in the media and culture across the globe.
“People have been touched in their hearts because our Holy Father says, ‘Before I see a rule, I always first see the person’,” the archbishop reflected. “Within the context of listening and understanding and walking with people together, we discover anew what were the teachings of Jesus, what he presented to us.”
“It begins with mercy, as our Holy Father says, and with love…the law of Christ is meant to give us a path to happiness in eternity and, we also hope, to the building of the body of Christ here on earth.”
The archbishop reiterated that the New Evangelization does not mean changing Church teaching. Instead, it is “providing a fresh understanding” of Church teaching that is “pastorally solid.”
“Our Holy Father…is very clear that, of course, the teachings of the Church must be preserved and passed on,” he said. “However, we need to do this in a way that the Holy Father says is creative. We need to do it in a way that we look for new strategies that address the hearts of people.”
Archbishop Kurtz is slated to return to Rome in October for the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on a pastoral approach to family issues.
“It will be the work of this synod to be able to, on the one hand, maintain a strict clarity on the teachings of our Church, but also to find new ways to proclaim the Gospel,” he said.