INTERVIEW: Leader of US Bishops Expresses His Hopes for Pope’s Mexico Visit

Archbishop Kurtz Tells ZENIT That Welcome to Immigrants Will Enrich America, Its Church

Archbishop Kurtz

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The president of the US bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, says Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Mexico can bear many fruits, but in particular, his welcoming message to immigrants can enrich the whole of America and its Church.

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT ahead of the Pope’s highly anticipated trip to Mexico, Feb. 12-18, the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, stressed that the importance of the apostolic journey goes beyond the borders of Mexico.

With the Pope scheduled to cross the Atlantic later this week, and immigration expected to be one of the themes he will address, the archbishop reflected on how the Pope’s message should be heard north of the border and in this election season.

“Last September in Washington,” Archbishop Kurtz said, “Pope Francis encouraged us to offer immigrants the warmth and love of Christ.”

The American prelate noted Francis put immigration in the context of Christian charity, as well as recognizing the great contribution immigrants have made to our own country.

“If we continue to welcome immigrants as our brothers and sisters in Christ, Pope Francis said, ‘I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church,'” he recalled.

According to Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends estimates, about 6 million Mexican-born immigrants still make up about 52% of the undocumented population in the United States.

Across the border

Archbishop Kurtz told us that when Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Juarez, Mexico, “I will be watching with hundreds of Americans gathered in El Paso and thousands more watching around the United States.”

El Paso is the sister city of Juarez, sitting just on the other side of the border.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Francis will conclude his Mexican visit in Ciudad Juarez, where he will celebrate Mass. In honor of the historic event, the Diocese of El Paso, TX, is organizing a papal celebration for the faithful at the Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, which will include a live telecast of the Mass in Juarez.

As part of the papal telecast event at the Sun Bowl, also broadcasted will be Pope Francis’ journey in Juarez throughout the afternoon. Also, the bilingual program will welcome the presence of nationally known figures, speakers, singers and local music. For example, known guitarist Tony Melendez will perform.

As the Pope celebrates the Mass in Juarez, from the altar he’ll be able to see a livestream of Sun Bowl Stadium. It is expected the Holy Father will bless the crowd on the US side of the border.

The event hopes to bring faithful together to experience the excitement of the Holy Father’s proximity to the border, mindful of the complications that a border crossing implies for many.

History as immigrants

“His visit to Mexico,” Archbishop Kurtz said, “is an invitation to see our brothers and sisters as fellow pilgrims journeying toward Christ. As we accept this invitation, we embrace our own history as a nation of immigrants.”

The archbishop also acknowledged that the Hispanic population in the United States has now become a defining characteristic of the Church in this country.

Given this, Archbishop Kurtz responded to what the meaning of what Francis’ Mexico visit is for these people, and for all US Catholics.

“Each of our local Churches brings a valuable cultural heritage,” he responded, noting, “Pope Francis has described these as ‘resources meant to be shared.'”

“The visit is another opportunity for us to learn from and share in this diversity, while being reminded we are one Church in America – whether from north, south or central. Our faith and our differences come together in the one body of Christ.”

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