CHICAGO – The bishop set to become the leader of the third-largest diocese in the United States vowed Monday night that he will be active in the Chicago community by pushing for immigration reform, battling gang violence and helping the poor.
Blase Cupich delivered the homily at Holy Name Cathedral, speaking to hundreds of civic and religious leaders, including his retiring predecessor, Cardinal Francis George.
"You will find me a ready partner," said Cupich, who on Tuesday will officially become the archbishop of Chicago, overseeing an archdiocese that includes more than 2 million parishioners.
The service, called the Rite of Reception, started shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, with Cupich striking Holy Name's front door three times, the sound of each blow reverberating through the hushed cathedral.
The door, symbolic of Jesus, swung open and then a procession slowly made its way down the center aisle, with applause erupting at the site of the 65-year-old Cupich and the 77-year-old George, who seemed frail from his battle with cancer, walking slowly behind him.
The service is at once steeped in tradition and symbolism, also marks the first time in the history of this archdiocese that a new bishop has assumed leadership while his predecessor is still alive.
With George sitting in the cathedra, the ceremonial chair that is occupied by the archbishop of Chicago, Cupich greeted several religious and civic leaders, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
During the service, Cupich was presented with the Archdiocesan stole, a garment by priests, a signal that he is being welcomed into the archdiocese.
"It is given to him by his (Chicago area) brother priests and when they give it to him it is an invitation for him to be the pastor," said Michael Murphy, the director of Catholic Studies at Loyola University in Chicago.
In selecting Cupich, 65, to succeed George, Pope Francis was widely seen as sending a message with his first major appointment in the United States that he wants the new leader of the nation's third largest archdiocese as a pastor, someone who will emphasize mercy and minister to the disadvantaged.
As if to underline the views he shares with the pope, Cupich quoted Pope Francis, speaking of the need to open "our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak," he said. "If our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures."
Cupich, who comes to the archdiocese after serving as bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, knows he will be watched closely as he deals with a host of issues, including the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church, and which he was asked about minutes after his plane landed in Chicago last week. He did not offer any specifics about how he might tackle that issue and others.
During the service, Cupich sat to the right of George and did not sit in the cathedra. On Tuesday, George will present him with the crozier, or staff, that signals the leader of the archdiocese, and Cupich will sit in the cathedra — a signal that the archdiocese has a new leader.