An Interview With Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, Diocese of St. Louis

Cross Catholic Outreach: Archbishop Rozanski, thank you for welcoming us to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. We’re very blessed that you recently became a member of the Board of Directors of Cross Catholic Outreach. What aspect of our ministry inspired you to join the Board of Directors?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: When I reflect on the many ways in which Cross Catholic Outreach makes a difference to the poor of the worldand it reaches out to their lives in such a way that benefits them, not only for the short term but for the long term. I think that’s one of the most inspiring parts of Cross Catholic Outreach, reaching out to those who truly are in need and being there to make a difference, not just for today and tomorrow but well into the future.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Pope Francis talks a lot about accompaniment as it relates to helping the poor, saying we should become more involved in the lives of those we help. How important is this notion of accompaniment to those we help in our outreach?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: In our world today, we seem so fragmented, especially after dealing with the COVID-19 virus, and things have gotten so fragmented for us. And Pope Francis continues to remind us of the importance of accompaniment, listening to one another, learning from one another, and building up unity because of that being together. And I think that our unity with the poor is so important because, as the Church, we’re the continuation of Jesus’ ministry in the world. And reaching out to the poor is so much a part of what Jesus did in his own earthly ministry, in his public ministry here, and we are the extension of that in Cross Catholic Outreach.

Cross Catholic Outreach: A few weeks ago, we spoke with Cardinal Gregory, the patron of Cross Catholic Outreach. He said, “Charity puts the best face on the Catholic Church.” Do you agree?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: When we reach out to others, we’re really showing that the words of Jesus, that we breathe in the Gospel, have touched our hearts because Jesus is always moving us to look outward, to look out for the needs of the poor. In the story of the rich and Lazarus, it was the rich man who ignored Lazarus, and he could only get the scraps from the table. But Jesus and Pope Francis today remind us that the words of the Gospel truly move us to reach out to others.

And so accompaniment is such an important part of our Christian journey, of being the presence of Jesus in the world, and of reaching out to those especially who are poor and in need. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Holy Father announced a very comprehensive reform of how the Vatican operates.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The goal is to orient the Church more fully toward evangelization. What role does mercy play in evangelizing the world?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: A few years ago, we remember that the Holy Father declared a year of mercy and reminded us of how much mercy is to be a part of the Church’s ministry in the world. So, mercy in reaching out shows forgiveness; it shows compassion; and it shows the face of Jesus to the world. So, the Holy Father’s emphasis on evangelization and having mercy is such an integral part that really does show to the whole world that the face of Christ is lived through our Catholic Church.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Pope Francis has a beautiful quote about the poor, “The poor evangelize us” [paraphrase]. How do the poor evangelize those who are already Christians?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: When we reach out to those who are poor and when we seek to help them in their lives, our lives become enriched. And in so many ways, we who have material wealth can have our sight really tunnel-visioned because we’re looking at the things we have that are material. When we reach out to the poor, we reach out to those who don’t have material things but who really have such an appreciation of their lives, of what little they have, and how they reach out to others. Maybe not with the material things, but with the presence of their own lives and sharing with us the wisdom that comes from surviving in the poorest nations of the world.

Cross Catholic Outreach: One of the goals of Cross Catholic is to build water wells in remote villages of the world where there’s a lack of clean water. In the Gospel, we read the account of Jesus and his conversation with a woman at the well about Living Water. Tell us how our physical need for water mirrors our spiritual need for the Living Water of Jesus.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: In our country, the United States, we’re so used to having that quality of water that’s available to us just at our tap. As soon as we turn on the faucet, we expect water to come rushing out. It’s part of our lives; it’s part of who we are. We cannot even imagine what it’s like for those who have to walk a great distance just to get to the water, fill their water jugs for the day, and have that used for the day. It’s totally unimaginable to us. But we know that water is necessary; it refreshes us, and our body needs water. And in those countries of the world where water is not available, it’s so important that Cross Catholic Outreach is looking out to build those wells, to build those places where people can get that water; that’s the physical need. But also in that is that spiritual need we have for the Living Water that is Jesus. And in doing those different projects and helping those to get the water that they need to physically live, Cross Catholic Outreach really binds the spirituality of the water that is Jesus himself, who gives us nourishment and refreshment for our spiritual lives. So, water, as we well know, is just one of the basic necessities of our lives. And that Living Water is the basic necessity of our spiritual life that we find in Jesus.

Cross Catholic Outreach: People may think the building of water wells in some remote villages is beyond their capacity. What would you say to encourage individuals who have never given to a project like this to take that first step to make a difference?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: We see our world literally from our own limited perspective. And we find that we have those things we need to sustain us in life. And it’s hard to imagine that there are places in our world today where people do not have those basic necessities. So, Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we are responsible for one another and that we are to look out for our brothers and sisters, and water, being so basic to life, really helps us to know that in reaching out to those who do not have that basic necessity. We’re giving to them what Jesus asks of us to do, being able to reach out to give to those who are in need, that basic necessity, that is water. We all can’t do it by ourselves. But together, through Cross Catholic Outreach, we can really make a difference in the lives of many people by just giving them the basic necessities of life.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Archbishop, you know our world is becoming more secularized every day, and Catholic education has perhaps never been more important. Can you speak about the role teachers and catechists play in passing on the concepts of Catholic social teaching — things like the works of mercy?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: The Gospels are imbued with examples of Jesus reaching out to others in so many ways. And for us to be his extension in the world, we have to learn that, as the disciples learned from Jesus in his physical presence, in the way he reached out to others; we too have to learn the ways of the Gospel. First of all, learn the Gospel message, and then learn how to implement that Gospel message in our lives. So, it’s so important for catechists and teachers to be able to explain the Gospel, to explain what our Church is and why our Church is present in the world. So that Catholics and those who are called to be followers of Jesus can truly look out for the needs of others and reach out to answer those needs.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The Church is in the midst of the Synod on Synodality. How is that going here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis? And what are your hopes for the universal Church when this process is complete?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: Pope Francis, in his many writings over these past years of his papacy, and particularly in “The Joy of the Gospel,” emphasized the importance of evangelization. And he picked up on the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, which talks about the evangelization of “Evangelii Nuntiandi.” Pope Paul VI had a great insight into what the Church is supposed to be. We are called to be evangelizers. So, the Synod on Synodality really is a part of that evangelization process. And so here in the Church of St. Louis, we’re looking at how we live as an evangelizing church. What are the structures that we have in place to help us to be evangelizers? What structures perhaps are not helping us as much as we would like them to, and how can we improve?

And so, for the universal Church, what I’d like to see in the Synod on Synodality, first of all, is a realization that we can learn from each other — that our solidarity in our Catholic faith allows us to learn from the different cultures and countries of the world where Catholicism is present to be able to enrich the way we live Catholicism in our own area.

For example, I believe that the Church in Central and South America really has lived synodality for many decades now and that they can teach us what it is to truly live synodality. So, I look forward to the proceedings of the Church on the Synod on Synodality, and I look forward to the fruits of that being that we can learn from each other, we can accompany one another, and as a church universal, we are in closer solidarity with one another.

Cross Catholic Outreach: For a number of years, Archbishop, Cross Catholic Outreach has hosted seminarians on mission trips, taking them down to see the front lines in the fight against poverty. How impactful do you think an experience like that is for a young man in formation to the priesthood?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: In those very critical formative years before priesthood, all of the experiences that our seminarians receive help them to form their vision of living out priesthood and following Jesus Christ. So, in being able to visit those different areas where Cross Catholic Outreach is present, the seminarians’ lives are impacted by, first of all, witnessing the lives of the poor and also seeing what can be done in a very fruitful way to better their lives. And seminarians can take that on through their ordination to the priesthood, and be ambassadors for the poor, and help their congregations reach out to lift the burdens of the poor.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Our Box of Joy® ministry aims to share the love of Christ with children in the developing world. What do you think of when you think about this special ministry to children?

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: When we look at all of the children in the world who live in poverty, it really is a number that can be very overwhelming. And we realize that these are innocents born into the world, born into circumstances that are well beyond their control. And so Cross Catholic Outreach to children really is so important because it starts to give them a boost in life that helps them up from their poverty. So, those Boxes of Joy lift their spirits, help them to cope with their situations, and let them know that there is hope, even in the midst of their poverty, and that the Church cares and is concerned for them.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Archbishop Rozanski, we thank you for your time today, and we thank you for being part of the leadership of Cross Catholic Outreach.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski: Thank you very much for this opportunity. And God bless everyone who works with Cross Catholic Outreach and who serves the poor in such an admirable way. God bless you.

Box of Joy is a ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach.