BALTIMORE — As he prepares to take control of the nation’s third largest Catholic archdiocese next week, Chicago Archbishop-designate Blase Cupich says he’s looking forward to spending time with his visiting family and getting to know Chicagoland Catholics.
Speaking to Crux during the US Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore, Cupich said he has finished his duties as bishop in Spokane and is headed directly to Chicago after the bishops’ meeting ends on Thursday. When he arrives, after a press conference at the airport, he’ll visit several parishes and schools to get a sense of “the ethnic diversity in the city.”
“I’m just trying to get around and to see a little sprinkling of the various places in Chicago,” he said. “I’ve had some good help with people suggesting things to me. It will be just an opportunity for me to take the pulse of what’s happening in the Church in these various venues.”
His goals for the first few months?
“Getting to know people, and making sure that I don’t burn myself out,” he said, laughing, as he backslapped other bishops waiting in a lunch buffet line at the Marriott Waterfront hotel.
With the holidays right around the corner, the Omaha native said his schedule is already packed with fundraisers for Catholic schools, hospitals, and universities, and that he’s looking forward to “Christmas Day, when I’ll be at Cook County jail for Mass in the morning.”
Cupich plans to celebrate daily Mass at the cathedral as often as his schedule permits, and he said his decision to live in the cathedral rectory rather than the archbishop’s residence “was motivated by my own need to have an active faith community, a parish community, on a daily basis.”
The downtown location, he said, will allow him “to be involved in the life of the city,” plus, he said, smiling, “I’m two minutes from the office. I know that I’m going to have to pay attention to what’s happening in the various offices of the archdiocese, and this makes it a lot easier.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago is 44 percent Hispanic, and Cupich said living alongside a group of Mexican nuns at the rectory will help him fine-tune his Spanish.
“It’s good, but I need a lot of work in it. When you get older, it’s tough to pick up another language,” he said. “I speak Italian, which is good and bad in a sense. I mix up the words now.”
Cupich, who has been described as a moderate in the American hierarchy reportedly handpicked by Pope Francis to lead Chicago, said he was encouraged by remarks Monday from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the bishops conference, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, both of whom participated in last month’s synod on the family at the Vatican.
“There was really a full-throated support of the Holy Father’s initiative, his method, as Cardinal Wuerl said really so eloquently, of listening to the Holy Spirit, and also of listening to people, because we have to be open to new possibilities in order for us to help people,” Cupich said.
He said the Church won’t be changing its teaching, but praised the writings of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has emerged as a leading advocate for reform under Francis.
“We are talking about making sure we attend to all of our doctrine, and not just cherry-picking things that have been in vogue in the past,” he said.
He said bishops must “realize that there’s a rich tradition here of mercy in the Church that Cardinal Kasper has enunciated so very clearly in his stunning book. It’s not just a matter of making sure we don’t change doctrine, but I think it’s important to attend to the full doctrine of the Church.”
Cupich takes over from Cardinal Francis George, who has led the 2.4 million member archdiocese since 1997, the first Chicago native to hold the position. The 77-year-old George, a former president of the bishops conference, is facing another bout with cancer. Cupich will be installed as the ninth archbishop of Chicago next Tuesday at Holy Name Cathedral.