Bishop Kemme meets with Pope Francis in Rome

Bishop Carl A. Kemme, left, celebrated an ad limina visit closing Mass with two former priests of the Diocese of Wichita Friday, Jan. 17, in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. In the center is Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City, next to Bishop Shawn W. McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri. They are standing next to an icon of St. Timothy whose relics were moved to a side altar in the basilica for veneration during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25. (Advance photo)

One of the first things Bishop Carl A. Kemme did during a meeting of U.S. bishops with Pope Francis Thursday, Jan. 16, was to thank him for appointing him bishop of the Diocese of Wichita.

“I was the second bishop to speak. And I was a little surprised at myself for that, but I stepped out there…I thought that if I don’t do this early on, I may chicken out,” Bishop Kemme said last week.

He told the pope that he had appointed him in 2014 to a very beautiful, blessed diocese and that he was very grateful.
“I didn’t know anything about the diocese when you appointed me there,” Bishop Kemme said to Pope Francis, “but I’ve learned in these nearly six years that we have many, many blessings. I told him our diocese has numerous young priests and that I’ve ordained 30 priests in the five years that I’ve been there.”

With that comment, the pope’s eyes kind of opened up, Bishop Kemme said, adding that his comments were made through an interpreter.
“And I said we have wonderful Catholic schools. We have a great Catholic life there and I just really feel very blessed.”
Bishop Kemme was then able to ask a question of the pope, which was: “How do we as bishops build unity in our diocese in the context of such polarizing times in which we live?”

Social media, politics, and church life tend to pull us apart from one another, he added, when Christ our Lord prayed that we would be one.

“Pope Francis said it’s very important that we work toward unity. But, he said, unity is not uniformity,” Bishop Kemme said.
“They are two distinct things. He said it is important that we listen as bishops, that we listen to all sides, that we listen to all of our people – not just the ones that maybe tend to agree with us, that we really be – and he used this expression very often in his dialogue – that we’d be close to our people and our priests. That our closeness can be a source of unity.”

Pope uses metaphor of river

Bishop Kemme said Pope Francis used a metaphor that some people prefer to be on one bank of a river and others might prefer the other side, but that the river flows in one direction.

“As long as we’re flowing in that one direction, whichever bank we happen to be on, whichever side of the river we happen to prefer, we’re hopefully moving in one direction. What I think the pope is trying to do in the church today is allow for diversity, allow for the richness of diversity, but that we’re all moving, hopefully, in the same direction.”

Bishop Kemme said the ad limina visit convinced him, now, more than ever, that his episcopacy is what God is asking of him and that the Diocese of Wichita is where God wants him to be.

“And I feel that our pastoral plan is spot-on with the thinking of the pope: in the joy of the gospel that we work to become a missionary diocese that goes out, that evangelizes, that promotes a total stewardship way of life.”

Along with the emphasis of parish family life renewal and by reclaiming Sunday as the Lord’s Day, he said he felt confident that the diocesan pastoral plan is aligned with what Pope Francis is thinking. “So, I’m just more convinced and energized for the further work that lies ahead.”

Diocese an example for region

Bishop Kemme said he was hopeful the Diocese of Wichita can be a leader in the region.

“Not that we are perfect or that we don’t have challenges, of course, we do, but I think in terms of promoting vocations, in terms of Catholic schools and living a Catholic life, Mass attendance, the celebration of the sacraments, and the prayer of our people, I think people can rightly so look to the Diocese of Wichita as a model.”

He said he was humbled to have a small part in bringing that forward.

“I really feel hopeful for the future, in spite of the recent things we’ve been through and that the whole church has been through,” he said. “I think, okay, we will continue to work through those difficult things, but, oh boy, there’s light ahead of us and I want to work toward that.”

Bishop Kemme said the bishops of U.S. Region 9 were kept very busy during their visit. In addition to the Masses celebrated at important sites around Rome, they had meetings with the various dicasteries, or departments, of the Vatican.

“We were received very cordially,” he said. “And everyone, to a person, ask what they could do to help us. How can we help you in the governance of your diocese? What information do you need? What support do you need? We’re here to assist you.’
Those meetings were very encouraging, Bishop Kemme said.

During the meeting, Pope Francis said protecting human life is the “preeminent” social and political issue, and he asked the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities to convey his support to the pro-life community.