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NEW YORK – Standing behind the podium for the first time as archbishop-elect of Louisville on Jan. 8, Bishop Shelton Fabre recalled his visit to the archdiocese two years ago, when he presented the U.S. bishops pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” to local leaders.
Almost two years later, Fabre, who is the chair of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, brought up the visit to give his new flock a “message of joyful hope” about the work towards racial equality in the archdiocese.
“I have great hope that through genuine encounter and accompaniment we will work together to realize an even greater sense of the promotion of life, charity, justice, and peace as we endeavor to build an even greater civilization of love,” Fabre said. “I look forward to meeting you and experiencing the cultures of this wonderful local church.”
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville on Jan. 8, and appointed Fabre, the bishop of Houma-Thibodaux in southeastern Louisiana, as his successor.
Fabre is the 10th bishop and 5th archbishop in the 214-year history of the Archdiocese of Louisville, which covers 8,124 square miles in Kentucky, and has a population of 1,396,298 of which 1555,998 are Catholic. As the archbishop of Louisville, Fabre will be the metropolitan for the province of Louisville, which comprises all the dioceses in both Tennessee and Kentucky.
Fabre is one of 12 U.S. Catholic Church’s African American prelates, and he will be the first Black archbishop of Louisville. At the news conference he expanded on what he brings to the table with regards to healing from racial injustice.
“A listening heart. A willingness to dialogue,” Fabre said. “The teachings of the Church and a desire to encounter each and every person and the gift that God has created them to be without regard necessarily for race.”
Fabre said he was “humbled” and “excited” by his appointment during the news conference. To the faithful in the archdiocese, Fabre said he looks forward “to getting to know you through our interactions and most importantly by listening to your hearts.”
“I also look forward to you getting to know me, as I am here to serve you, to journey with you in faith, and to celebrate all that God is doing in our lives,” Fabre continued.
The archbishop then greeted the priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and seminarians in the archdiocese, saying that he looks “forward to sharing this mission that has been entrusted to us by Jesus Christ as we work together to serve the needs of the whole people of God.”
After greeting those in his new home Fabre got emotional reflecting on his eight-plus years in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and thanking its Catholic population.
“I have been incredibly happy and fulfilled as the Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux,” Fabre said through tears. “I express gratitude to you for the love, support, kindness you have shown to me during my time with you.”
Fabre then went into what he is leaving behind, and what he will now embrace.
“I am no longer in the Who Dat nation of New Orleans and the Saints for I know this is Cardinal and Wildcat country where basketball is king,” Fabre said.
“The Lord has me from the bayous to the bluegrass, from gumbo and jambalaya to barbecue and the hot brown,” he continued. “I leave the coats of a Cajun community to walk with you in the foothills of the heartland and I do so knowing that my love for king cake and Mardi Gras will be quenched by Mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby.”
Fabre has led the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux since 2013. He previously served as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 2006-2013. Kurtz, who Fabre will replace, was installed as the Archbishop of Louisville in 2007.
Kurtz welcomed Fabre to the archdiocese at the news conference. He noted that they first met at a retreat in Louisville 15 years ago about a month before Fabre was ordained a bishop.
“We’re getting someone who is a deeply human person,” Kurtz said. “A very healthy person. A holy man and in a special way a good pastoral bishop. Boy, are we really blessed.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg