For those curious about who’s briefing Pope Francis ahead of his US visit, here’s a clue: Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich was in Rome Wednesday with Pope Francis, the second time the two men have spoken in person in less than three months.
Cupich was leading a delegation from Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based organization that provides financial support to mission dioceses in the United States. Joining him was another center-left American prelate, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, and the organization’s leader, the Rev. Jack Wall.
Francis was seen laughing at a cutout of Flat Francis, a social media campaign launched by Catholic Extension to raise awareness of the pope’s visit. According to a statement from Wall, Cupich presented Pope Francis with Junipero Serra’s personal cross. Francis will canonize Serra later this month during a Mass at the Catholic University of America.
Since his appointment in November to lead the nation’s third largest archdiocese, Cupich has emerged as the leader of the moderate wing of the American hierarchy.
For example, in a homily last month after receiving the pallium from the papal nuncio at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, Cupich said the Church should be “open to new avenues and creativity when it comes to accommodating families, particularly those who are broken, those who have suffered” and “not settle for solutions that no longer work, expressions that no longer inspire, and ways of working that stifle creativity and collaboration.”
He is expected to be named a delegate to the Synod on the Family that kicks off next month in Rome.
Kicanas, a former vice president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been among the most vocal of bishops advocating for immigration reform. He said in an interview with Crux last year that he hopes the pope’s encouragement of open dialogue about hot button family issues could make its way into how the US Church is run.
“We haven’t found a way yet as a conference to really engage one another in open dialogue and in good listening, and that’s what the Holy Father asked the Synod to do. I’d like to see that happen more in the conference,” he said.
Kicanas told Crux that this was his first time meeting Francis, and that he thanked the pope in Spanish for his strong advocacy on behalf of migrants.
“He kept saying in Spanish, ‘Pobresitos, pobresitos’ those poor struggling people,” Kicanas said. “He put his head down with sadness considering the plight of so many people fleeing dangers in their home country.”
Following the brief meeting with Francis, the Catholic Extension delegation met with the Vatican’s secretary of state. The group was in Rome celebrating its 105th anniversary.