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Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss in his office Sept. 24 while discussing his upcoming trip to Rome for the beatification of Pope Paul VI. Photo by SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss plans trip to Pope Paul VI’s beatification

Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss plans to attend the Oct. 19 beatification of the man who appointed him a bishop in 1976.

He said he never met personally with Pope Paul VI, but he did see him from afar in an earlier visit to Rome. And he kept a letter from the pope, full of advice for a new bishop, borrowed from St. Paul’s Letter to Titus.

The letter was personal and moving, Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss said, and a reminder to be patient, loving and kind, especially with people who might disagree with him.

Pope Paul VI lived that message and was a pope for the times, from 1963 to 1978, with his "intelligence, scholarship, patience and gentleness in handling difficult issues," the archbishop emeritus said.

Controversy and dissent – stemming from his affirmation of church teaching on artificial contraception and from Second Vatican Council changes – had to have hurt the pope, "but he didn’t retaliate and was charitable with people who wanted to push their own agendas," he said.

The beatification in Rome will occur during the closing Mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss said he won’t be a witness to the synod events, but he does plan to stay at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where two archdiocesan seminarians are studying: Matthew Niggemeyer, a newly ordained transitional deacon and a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, and Tobias Letak, of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish, both in Omaha.

He also plans to make a side trip to Slovenia, where his mother was born, to visit with relatives. Father Charles Swanson, a retired archdiocesan priest, will accompany him.

And Dr. Thomas Hilgers, and his wife, Sue, who founded Omaha’s Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, also plan to be at the beatification in Rome.

Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" affirmed church opposition to artificial contraception but also its teaching on the beauty and purpose of marriage, love and procreation.

The pope also helped steer the church through Vatican II and its aftermath, as Masses began being offered in local languages and the laity assumed new roles, Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss said. The changes were confusing at first, but Pope Paul VI and later Pope John Paul II, who was declared a saint in April, provided key guidance, he said.

In previous trips to Rome, Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss witnessed the canonization of St. Jeanne Jugan, whose cause included the miraculous healing of Dr. Edward Gatz of Christ the King Parish in Omaha. And the archbishop emeritus met Popes John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI during seven "ad limina" visits to the Vatican as a bishop and archbishop.

Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss’s first "ad limina" trip was in 1978, when he was bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Mont. Appointed a bishop at age 43 when he was president-rector of Mount Angel Seminary in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., he served the Montana diocese from 1976 to 1996 and was archbishop of Omaha from 1993 to 2009.

Photos with the popes he met decorate the office of the archbishop emeritus, and official letters of his episcopal appointments hang from the walls – including the one bearing Pope Paul VI’s seal – another treasured keepsake from the pope who helped form an archbishop.

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