Archbishop Cupich appeals to ‘Midwestern values’ to focus on alienated, poor

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Incoming Archbishop Blase J. Cupich made an appeal to the pragmatic “Midwestern values” of local Catholics on Monday night, calling for civility on divisive issues and a renewed focus on the plight of the downtrodden, alienated and poor.

Cupich’s remarks, delivered during his first homily at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, marked the first of a three-day celebration that will see him installed as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago. He officially begins his duties Tuesday.

Monday’s Mass began just after 7 p.m., when Cupich knocked three times on the front door of the cathedral, in accordance with tradition, before being ushered in to receive the archdiocesan stole.

After greeting a handful of dignitaries, Cupich offered heartfelt thanks to both of his predecessors — outgoing Cardinal Frances George, as well as the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Quickly, though, he made clear that the cause of social justice was his calling.

Quoting from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” and the Book of Ezekiel, he called on Catholics to offer assistance to those who are “with hopes broken and barren” who are cast off “like dry bones . . . under the scorching sun of oppression.”

In doing so, Cupich channeled the progressive message of Pope Francis — albeit with a City of Big Shoulders rhetorical flourish that any Chicagoan could appreciate.

The “United States has benefited from the talents and leadership of many Chicagoans over our nation’s history, contributing common-sense Midwestern values in touch with the real lives of real people,” Cupich said. “We are a city that is unafraid to walk through the dry bones.”

In case the subtly of the parable was lost, he made himself a bit more clear.

Cupich told Catholics to embrace comprehensive immigration reform — not because it’s on his agenda, “but because it is on God’s.”

Then he indicated that he prioritizes outreach in impoverished and gang-plagued neighborhoods.

“So many are left unconnected because of poverty spread across generations, racism or not having mentors to guide and inspire them,” he said. “Our aim should be to make sure everyone has a place at the table of life.”

Cupich did praise his predecessor George, who is a stalwart in the social wars and is viewed by some as overzealous in his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

But Cupich also said “harsh rhetoric and a lack of comity” in public discourse only erode the public’s faith in their leaders and institutions.

“Civil discourse is needed not just so we can get something done for the common good, but because of the impact that failing to do so has on society,” he said.

Later he added: “It is not surprising that parishioners, citizens and the public become uneasy and disaffected with the community and public life when they see leaders speak in ways that incite fears rather than inspire hope.”

Attendees at the Mass were predominantly male. Indeed, a majority appeared to be priests or other members of the clergy.

Afterward, several priests praised the homily and expressed optimism about the burgeoning Cupich era.

“He spoke of social justice issues right off the bat,” said Rev. Thomas Baldonieri of St. James Church in Highwood. “We have to start with those. We have to be concerned about the poor, we have to be concerned about those who are marginalized and those who don’t feel welcome.”

Added Rev. Wayne Watts of St. John Berchmans in Logan Square: “That homily was really inspiring. He mentioned [social issues] by name; he called them out — drug addicts, teenagers, immigration reform.”

“He’s going to have a very welcome reception here with that agenda,” Watts said.

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