NEW ORLEANS — At the June 11 opening Mass of the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in New Orleans, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church leaders who had gathered for two and a half days of meetings “want to be Barnabas.”
By that, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, meant the bishops want to be men of encouragement to Catholics, society and each other.
St. Barnabas, whose feast day is celebrated June 11, was given the name Joseph at birth but then was renamed Barnabas by the early apostles after he sold his property and gave them the proceeds, the archbishop explained.
The new name, which he said means “son of encouragement,” aptly describes the characteristics of this early apostle who encouraged the Christian community and even introduced Saul — before he also had a name change to Paul — to this group. Barnabas also went on to Antioch to preach the Gospel message to an audience that was not very receptive.
Archbishop Kurtz said he and his fellow bishops in their time together in New Orleans want to focus on how they can encourage the faithful to take up the task of being new evangelists and to also consider how to encourage the larger society, noting that faith is good for everyone “not just the faithful.”
He added that bishops also need to encourage each other, pointing out that certain bishops “have that knack.”
In his case, the bishop who provided this constant encouragement — with a phone call, a note, or a pat on the back — was the late Bishop David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1990-1999. He died last fall at the age of 90.
“He was a true friend,” the archbishop noted.
At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Kurtz thanked New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond for the “truly warm New Orleans welcome,” which could very likely be interpreted literally that sunny and humid afternoon.
Archbishop Aymond indeed welcomed his fellow bishops to the city and St. Louis Cathedral, established as a parish in 1720. He also welcomed the city’s mayor, Mitch Landrieu, to the afternoon Mass.
A handful of protesters stood outside the cathedral prior to Mass holding signs in favor of women’s ordination to the priesthood. By the middle of Mass they were gone and the area outside the church was instead dotted with tourists taking pictures and children chasing each other.