For Cardinal-designate, red hat tops a priesthood filled with surprises

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — For Cardinal-designate Blase J. Cupich
of Chicago, one of nine children born to a family in Omaha, Nebraska, more than
40 years of priesthood have been filled with “Are you kidding me?”

Like Pope Francis, the archbishop of Chicago has a special
affection for Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew”
and he often stops in Rome’s Church of St. Louis of France to look at it.

Ordained a bishop on the feast of St. Matthew, Sept. 21, in
1998, Cardinal-designate Cupich said that the call of Matthew speaks to
“my own spirituality.” In the painting, he said, Matthew has “that
surprised look on his face, that sense of wonderment, of ‘Are you kidding me?’
And that’s the way I kind of feel at this point in my life.”

“No one could have ever crafted this story; this is
something that is an ‘Are you kidding me?’ moment,” the cardinal-designate
told Catholic News Service Oct. 13 during an interview in Rome.

Just a few days after Pope Francis announced Oct. 9 that he
would induct the Chicago archbishop and 16 other churchmen into the College of
Cardinals, Cardinal-designate Cupich was at the Vatican on a previously scheduled
trip to take part in a meeting of the Congregation for Bishops.

He still had not received any written communication about
his nomination, which he learned about when a friend from Rome phoned at 5 a.m.
Chicago time and woke him up. “I was hoping to sleep in until 7 o’clock
that nice Sunday,” he said. His friend said, “You’re on the
list,” and Archbishop Cupich responded, “What list?”

“It did come as a real surprise. I didn’t know there
was going to be an announcement,” he said. The pope’s nuncio to the United
States, Archbishop Christophe
Pierre, called the next day to congratulate him.

The previous six archbishops of Chicago received a red hat,
but Pope Francis has been skipping over several archdioceses traditionally led
by cardinals. “This pope is a pope of surprises. So I think it wasn’t something
I had my heart set on.”

Pope Francis, in making the announcement, tied the
nominations to the Year of Mercy; the new cardinals will concelebrate Mass with
him Nov. 20 to formally close the Holy Year.

More than being about specific projects or works of mercy,
Cardinal-designate Cupich said the year has “forced me to reflect on the
fact that the Gospel has as its main message mercy. … It’s made me look at
mercy not just as an add-on, but as the center of proclaiming the Gospel.”

“Mercy means realizing that before we did anything,
we’re loved. That we’re valued. That God wants us to succeed — even to the
point that when we go wrong, when we err, when we make mistakes, when we are
sinful,” he said, God tells us, “‘Move forward. I want you to
succeed. I’m there to help you.'”

Rather than being like a tribunal that commutes a sentence
and allows the person to go back to where they were, he said, “mercy is an
experience that moves us forward,” it involves being “surprised and
caught off guard” by God’s love and responding by making a commitment to
do better.

Cardinal-designate Cupich said he does not know many of the
other cardinals-designate, but “one of the most striking appointments”
was that of Archbishop Mario Zenari, the nuncio to Syria, who will remain in
Syria. The nomination, he said, is a recognition of the nuncio’s ministry in
the midst of war, “but also, knowing a number of people who are in the
diplomatic corps of the Holy See, I would imagine this is a shot in the arm for
them; it is a way the Holy Father can lift up the work that they are doing day
in and day out in so many unrecognized ways.”

Another surprise in the announcement was that Pope Francis
named three prelates who had been ministering in the United States:
Cardinals-designate Cupich, Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, and Kevin J.
Farrell, who had been bishop of Dallas and is the new prefect of the Dicastery
for Laity, Family and Life.

Choosing three shows Pope Francis “values the
experience of the church in our country,” the Chicago archbishop said.
“Especially the way that we have worked to integrate immigrants into our
country” is an experience that U.S. Catholics can share with Catholics in
other countries who may be struggling to find appropriate ways to accept and integrate

A month before U.S. citizens vote in a heated presidential
election, Cardinal-designate Cupich said his confidence in the American people
and U.S. democracy has not weakened.

“I have great confidence in the moral fiber of the
American people to respond in a way that is going to allow their deepest
aspirations about democracy to win the day,” he said. “Political
debate is tough, it’s a rumble sometimes,” but people know what they

“It’s not for me or any leader in the church to tell
people how to vote; we’re there to present principles, to look at where the
priorities of the nation should be and then to allow them to make a decision,”
he said. “People day in and day out make tough decisions; they raise
teenagers, so they know how to make tough decisions and how to deal with thorny

When they receive their red hats, Cardinal-designate Cupich
and the 16 other new cardinals also will receive the “title” to a
church in Rome. As the “titular cardinal” of those churches, the
cardinals become members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome.

Rome “is a place where all of us should feel welcome
and at home,” he said. Rome is not just where the pope lives, but “it’s
where the universal church comes together in unity.”

“Especially at a time when there’s so much division in
society and in the world,” the cardinal-designate said, “the church
can be an example of what are the gifts of fighting for unity — not fighting
in a way that brings division, but fighting for all that unites us.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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