Chicago Catholics Greet Their New Archbishop
On May 6 and 7, Roman Catholics in Chicago celebrated the installation of their new archbishop, Francis George. At a May 7 Mass held at Holy Name Cathedral, Archbishop George made clear his own thoughts about his rise to be leader of the second largest Catholic region in the United States. Gazing out at the congregation of 1500 people, he said, "I wasn't really nervous until I began to read the list of former archbishops of Chicago. Cardinal Mundelein, who was still archbishop when I was born. Cardinal Stritch. Cardinal Meyer. Cardinal Cody. Cardinal Bernardin. Looking at my own name at the end of that list, then I truly became nervous."
Archbishop George replaces Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died on November 14, 1996, and was much admired during his lifetime for his ability to bring peace between warring parties in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Bernardin announced last August that he was dying of cancer, and his calm acceptance of his impending death brought him yet more praise.
The cardinal introduced himself to the two million Catholics under his charge by saying in 1982, "I am Joseph, your brother." On May 6, Archbishop George told the 1200 priests who had gathered at Holy Name to witness his installation, "This evening, with the faith-filled witness of his welcoming death, his embracing death, still fresh in the memory of this city and across the nation, I do not feel free to claim such intimacy. Let me say only what, in his faith and ours, we all accept: I am your bishop. But in years to come, I will work very, very hard to become your brother."
Archbishop George returned to this theme the next day, at a Mass attended by 91 bishops, 25 archbishops, 8 cardinals, and leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and Protestant communities. "Christians are to look on everyone as a potential neighbor," he said. "Chicago was and is a city of neighborhoods. And so, for starters, if it is all right with you, I will say only this – I am Francis, your neighbor."
Neighborhoods became the topic of Archbishop George's sermon as he condemned attempts to erase all differences between people, as well as attempts by groups of people to "retire into separate enclaves." Archbishop George previously served as archbishop of Portland and bishop of Yakima, Wash., and was known during his time in Yakima for his work with Hispanics. He told the May 7 congregation, "If I do not know any Mexicans or Russians or Africans or Chicagoans, I cannot experience personally how Christ can be Mexican or Russian or African must be made public, but always in a way that they can be shared so that they can enrich everyone."
The archbishop seems already to have mastered the importance of one Chicago institution, for he narrated the tale of a Portland boy wondering who his new bishop would be. The boy told Archbishop George, "Well, Archbishop, if you're going to Chicago, maybe we can arrange a trade – and get Michael Jordan."
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson