This week, Chicago Catholics witnessed the changing of the guard. Retiring Cardinal Francis George presided over his final mass as Archbishop of Chicago, then Blase J. Cupich was installed as his successor on the following day, formally becoming the ninth Archbishop of Chicago on November 18, 2014.
During his final mass, it was clear Cardinal George was still not in the best of health. At the service, he continued to use crutches because of a tumor that was pressing against his veins and causing his leg to swell. Cardinal George remained seated for most of the service, standing only to walk up to the altar at the start of the service, and standing as he delivered the communion prayer over the Eucharist. He also sat as he delivered his homily. Still, Cardinal George’s mind is as sharp as ever, and he didn’t appear to be fatigued. In fact, Cardinal George individually greeted every Catholic after the mass who wanted to say goodbye. As always, Cardinal George mused philosophically about his place in the spectrum of Catholicism. He disagrees with labels that he was a “conservative” leader of Chicago, saying that the Catholic Church classifies things as “true/false, not left/right.”
After George’s retirement, Blase Cupich was installed at a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral that included the papal nuncio, Carlo Maria Vigano, and his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Francis George. The packed, standing-room only crowd at the cathedral sang “Gloria.” Archbishop Cupich’s sermon was sprinkled with jokes. For example, he said that hopes he won’t be expected to repeat Jesus’ miracle of walking on water, because “I can barely swim.” His homily also honored Chicago’s immigrant community and called for the healing of victims of sexual abuse and accountability by the church. Almost at the same moment the he officially became archbishop, Cupich included a modern twist by sending out an update on Twitter. He now becomes the spiritual leader of more than 2.2 million Catholics in the Chicagoland area. In addition to his duties as Archbishop of Chicago, the archbishops of the cities have traditionally played a major role in the American Catholic Church hierarchy, and have been involved with political leaders both locally, nationally, and internationally.
Some of my friends have asked whether Cupich will now be an Archbishop or Cardinal. The answer is that Cupich has already been elevated to Archbishop, as it expected for any person that leads an Archdiocese rather than a Diocese. He will almost certainly become a Cardinal in the future, as has been tradition for for all Archbishops of Chicago since Archbishop George Mundelein was elevated to Cardinal in 1924. If he becomes a Cardinal Bishop, it would make Cupich eligible to be a member of the College of Cardinals and to enter a conclave to elect a pope after Francis’ death or resignation.
When it’s all said and done, Cupich wouldn’t have been my choice for Archbishop of Chicago, but the choice has been made and what kind of leader Cupich will be remains to be seen. What are your thoughts, my faithful readers?