By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Nearly four dozen priests from across the United States gathered at the Galt House in downtown Louisville April 20-23 for the 47th annual convocation of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC).
The theme of the three-day convocation was “Father, Brother, Son: The Priest in the Family of God.”
The annual gathering is a way to bring priests together to support one another and to discuss common concerns, said Terry Oldes, NFPC business manager and one of the event’s organizers.
Representing the Archdiocese of Louisville at the national priests gathering was Father William D. Hammer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky. Father Hammer serves as the head of the archdiocesan Priests’ Council.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), delivered a keynote address April 21 titled “The Synods on the Family and Bringing Pastoral Heart to Families.”
Archbishop Kurtz is one of four delegates from the U.S. to the Oct. 4-25 world Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.”
In his address, the archbishop spoke of three things the church and the world need. First, he said, the church needs to find ways to convey the beauty of the teaching of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the church needs to raise up and allow families to inspire one another.
“The family is therefore not simply the object of the evangelization but the family is the subject also. It is the family who evangelizes,” he said. “They are not simply to be ministered to by the church. But, the family is the minister.”
Thirdly, the archbishop said, people need to practice the “art of accompaniment.” That is to walk with someone while providing pastoral care, he said.
In a period of dialogue at the end of the archbishop’s address, one priest asked if the synod considered other models of family or if it was working from the traditional model of a family consisting of a man, a woman and children.
The priest noted that the reality today in many parishes is that there are different family dynamics.
Archbishop Kurtz began his response by offering caution to enter into what may be the world’s response to these realities too quickly.
“The painful process of what it means to walk with someone does mean that we need to listen to the realities people are going through,” he said. “There will be a call to change our understanding of what chaste living is. It has to be heard.
“Does that mean that we therefore change the teaching? Or do we find creative ways to get the vision of human sexuality that is so part of our life and part of our church into people’s lives that they can understand?” he asked.
“I’m not speaking in favor of changing the definition of marriage,” the archbishop added. “Does that mean, therefore, if someone seeks to get a civil marriage and they are same sex, should they not receive the care of Christ? Of course it doesn’t. It means we reach out.”
But, he cautioned, in reaching out to others, one has to be careful not to conform themselves.
Among the other speakers were Joe Ollier, coordinator of youth ministry at Ascension Church in Kettering, Ohio. Ollier’s talk was titled “Yet you do not have many fathers: Fatherhood, Priesthood and the Laity.”
Father Louis Cameli, consultant to the USCCB, delivered an address called “Who Am I Now? Father, Son, Brother? — Making Sense of Priest’s Complex Web of Relationships to Bishops, People, and Each Other.”
The group also traveled to the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth Street, on April 21 to celebrate Mass, which was followed by a banquet and awards dinner.