The president of the U.S. bishops' conference exhorted a group of Catholic leaders to go forth in ministry to serve at the peripheries of society, where they will encounter God in the poor.

"Here is today's paradox: Go to the edge, and you reach the heart!" Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville told those gathered at the concluding Mass of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 10.

"Pope Francis calls us to get out of our homes and churches and schools and go to the frontier," he said. "We go to the frontier, and we find the heart of the Lord Jesus. It is the heart of Jesus that we find in the forgotten, the voiceless, and the vulnerable."

In a blog post about the experience, Archbishop Kurtz said that more than 500 leaders attended the Feb. 8-10 conference, which focused on social justice for the poor. Talks at the gathering covered topics ranging from rehabilitation of former prison inmates to the death penalty to the fight against physician-assisted suicide laws.

After the Mass, participants went to Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress on various social justice issues.

"You will advocate for just immigration policies; for a budget that does not forget those who are poor; for efforts in the Middle East – in the land which Jesus walked; for a lasting peace," the archbishop told the group.

"Take a vivid picture with you," he instructed them, "let your efforts have a face so you speak for that person."

Archbishop Kurtz revealed that when he met with Pope Francis in a private audience last October, the Pope said that "our faith in Christ is more powerful than the forces of a 'throwaway' society, a society that sadly ignores seeing the person first."

The archbishop echoed the Holy Father's call for a journey to the peripheries of society, in order to have an encounter with the poor.

"We are called to go forth. This is the task of the saints of God," he told the congregation. "All through the centuries men and women of faith have been raised up by Christ to give authentic and bold witness – like St. Scholastica, the Sixth Century sister of St. Benedict, the one who gives us examples of prayer that overflows into action."

"With God who is with us, who can be against us? Be courageous, be compassionate, be civil, stay calm. Do not fear. Go forth," he charged.