Archbishop Cupich hopes Pope Francis ‘will give us a greater sense of unity as a church and a nation’

“My hope is that Pope Francis will give us a greater sense of unity as a church and a nation, for we suffer at times from polarization which diminishes us”, Archbishop Blase Cupich said in an interview with America magazine. 

He spoke soon after the Vatican published the program for the pontiff’s visit to Cuba and the United States next September.

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 “I was struck that he is coming to us from Cuba, as if he were an immigrant”, the Chicago archbishop added. His comment brought to mind what Francis said in an interview with Valentina Alazraki,Televisa’s Rome correspondent last March, when he revealed, “Iwanted to enter the United States from the Mexican border.” But this was too complicated logistically, he explained. 

“The original motivation for the visit to the States is the World Meeting of Families”, the archbishop recalled.  “I believe the pope will help us more fully understand what it means for us to be one family and that all families should have a place at the table, especially immigrants and those who are easily left behind”, he stated.

Asked how he expects Americans to receive the Pope, the archbishop responded, “With roaring enthusiasm.”

I spoke to Cupich at the end of his first visit to Rome since Pope Francis chose him to be archbishop of the Windy City, September 2014.  He came to Rome from the Ukraine, where he had been on a charitable mission with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, on behalf of the US Bishops’ Conference.  He came because he had been invited to concelebrate mass with the Pope on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29.  He was one of 46 new metropolitan archbishops from 34 countries invited to do so, and at the end of the celebration Francis gave each of them a box containing the pallium, symbol of the role of metropolitan archbishop.

Significantly, however, Pope Francis received Cupich in private audience on June 26, at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.   It was their first ever meeting, and was an encounter of the utmost importance for the archbishop of Chicago who is  widely recognized as a pastor in Francis’ style, and one who fully shares the vision and approach of the first pope from the Americas. He spoke to me about this and much else.

You’ve met Pope Francis for the first time and in private audience, and you’ve also concelebrated Mass with him in St Peter’s basilica on June 29.  What image or impression of him remains in your heart after all this?

I was impressed by the generosity of the Pope in receiving me. While we know some of the commitments on his calendar, I am sure there are many other obligations that are unpublished and he took time to meet with me. The atmosphere was relaxed and he made me feel at ease.

How has all this impacted on the way you will carry out your mission as archbishop of Chicago?

Perhaps I will value more the importance of remaining serene as I face the obligations before me, and also of being generous with those who visit with me.

As you leave Rome, do you feel confirmed in the way you have been conducting your ministry up to now in Chicago?

Yes, I believe all of us who participated in the Mass at St. Peter's should feel confirmed.  The pope talked to us as brothers and then received each of us with such warmth and openness.

When you studied in Rome, you lived at the North American College (NAC).  What were your feelings this past week as you returned there for the first time as archbishop of Chicago?

It has been 40 years since I lived at the NAC and yet I feel at home there whenever I visit. Welcoming pilgrims here from Chicago allowed me to let them know about an important part of my life.

During your stay here you met some senior Vatican officials.  What impression do you take away from those encounters?

I have always had a high regard for the people who work for the Holy See. They are hardworking, polite and self-sacrificing. They are asked to do a lot with limited resources and care deeply about the Church. My visits with officials this time confirmed all of those convictions.

The Pope delivered an inspiring homily at the mass on June 29, what struck you most in what he said?

His linking of prayer, faith and witness and in that order struck me as a very important lens to view my ministry. Prayer takes us out of ourselves and forces us to see that we are not alone in our ministry, nor can we work as though everything depends on us. That encounter with the Lord in prayer strengthens our faith and emboldens us to see that our ministry is in fact a witness.

Many pilgrims from Chicago accompanied you on this visit, and you celebrated mass from them in the basilicas of Saint Peter and of St Paul’s Outside the Walls.  What has all this meant to you?

I came here with a great devotion to both saints, starting from the days that I grew up in a parish named Saints Peter and Paul and was ordained a priest there.  My four grandparents were part of the original community that founded that parish. I also was installed in Chicago on the Feast of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul. So our Masses at the two basilicas left me with the sense of continuity about my life, which I find very encouraging.

Pope Francis has decreed that from now on metropolitan archbishops are to receive the pallium in their own dioceses from the papal representative in the country, and not in the Vatican as had been the practice in recent decades.  When will you receive the pallium?

I will receive it on August 23 in Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago.

As you return to Chicago, what do you see as the main challenges ahead of you?

There are many, but as I have said often, there are no challenges for which we lack the necessary human resources. Also I have learned over life that instead of allowing the challenges that others or life throw my way, it is healthier for me to identify what challenges are important for me to pursue so that I can be prepared whatever other challenge comes my way. Thus, I want to build a culture of collaboration in the archdiocese, calling people to work together. I also want to build partnerships with the broader civic community.  All that will set the stage for addressing such issues as gun violence, education and immigration reform, inequality and poverty. A leader has to speak on issues but also has to lead by bringing people together. 

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