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August 23 - September 5, 2015

Archbishop Cupich reflects on pope, pallium, synod

(Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

In advance of the conferral of the pallium on Aug. 23, Archbishop Cupich sat down with editor Joyce Duriga to talk about his first meeting with Pope Francis, the upcoming synod of bishops and violence in our community.

Catholic New World: What was it like meeting Pope Francis for the first time in June when you went to receive the pallium?

Archbishop Cupich: He put me at ease right away. It was a very substantial conversation. It was an opportunity, I think, for him to encourage me and affirm me in the appointment that he made. This, of course, is one of the important services of the pope, to confirm people in the faith. He wanted to know a bit about what was happening in Chicago, and even how I was doing personally. I was glad to have a chance to tell him about all the good things happening here.

It was a good opportunity as well for the Holy Father to talk about some of the things that are very concerning to him about the role that the church plays in the world but also the important contribution that the church can make to humanity.

I suspect that his encyclical on ecology and the environment was on his mind as was his visit to the United States coming up in September. So it was a very wonderful opportunity for me to get to know him, but I think maybe also he was interested to know who this person was whom he had appointed, since we had never met.

CNW: What does it mean to you to be donning the pallium for the first time in Chicago?

Archbishop Cupich: What’s very nice is that all of the bishops in the metropolitan province of Chicago will be here for it. Of course people here from the archdiocese will be present as well. It is a unique ceremony because it has not been done this way before and that the papal nuncio will be here to present it. Since the actual pallium has a letter with it that’s addressed to the papal nuncio I decided I wasn’t going to open it. I don’t open other people’s mail.

CNW: Prior to your trip to Rome you participated in a trip to Ukraine as part of a delegation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Would you share some of what you saw and heard from the people there?

Archbishop Cupich: I was, of course, accompanying the president of our bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. He wanted to make a visit in solidarity with the people and the church that’s suffering so much. That gave us an opportunity to visit with people involved in the church but also in society. We met with the prime minister of Ukraine and the American ambassador. We also met with other local officials, charitable organizations and bishops to see what was happening with the refugees.

CNW: Why should Catholics here in the Chicago area care about what is happening there today?

Archbishop Cupich: First of all, there is a very strong Catholic Church there that has suffered for decades under Communism. And they have now really been rejuvenated, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. All of that seems to be in jeopardy now as their territorial integrity is being violated. There is a situation now in which they’re not sure about their future. It is affecting particularly the young people and it will have an impact on whether or not democracy will succeed.

I believe that they will succeed because there is a great spirit in the Ukrainian people. They are very fiercely pro-democracy and independent and we should do everything possible, not only because they’re Catholics but because we are Americans and that is something that they look to for support as a model.

CNW: The Catholic Church from the U.S. is helping in some ways. What else should we be doing?

Archbishop Cupich: People can support the collection every year for the church in Eastern Europe. The church in Chicago has the biggest offering of all the dioceses in the United States and we should be proud of that. That collection is taken up every year on Ash Wednesday, and it really does make a difference. We are able to do a lot of good things. We just put out a press release from the USCCB about a distribution we made this summer.

The second thing people can do is become informed about what’s happening there. It can get off the radar screen of the news media and we need to inform ourselves about what is happening so that these people do not feel that they are left alone. And then I would say continue to pray for the grace of conversion of hearts over there so that people can live in peace.

CNW: What are your hopes for the outcome of the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia?

Archbishop Cupich: I think it’s a good opportunity for all of us to reflect on the importance of marriage and family life, particularly in preparation of the synod because the synod will deal with some very important issues that have now been teed up in the Instrumentum Laboris. It will also be a follow up to a lot of the consultation we did on marriage and family life here in the archdiocese prior. So this is a big year and this is the first moment of that. Then it will continue with the Year of Mercy. We do have a good, full schedule of what we want to accomplish in those months.

CNW: What did we learn as an archdiocese from the research we did locally on the family, that was requested by Pope Francis for the Synod of Bishops on the Family to be held later this year?

Archbishop Cupich: We learned a lot about people’s aspirations and their concerns. But there was one thing that was very striking in all of that. There was not a whole lot said about the importance of families as the place where the faith is passed on. So often people look to either their parish or the diocese for schools to be the place where the faith is passed on and yet we all know from our growing up that faith is really passed on in families. We need to regain a sense of how important families are in passing on the faith as I think we have lost some ground on that.

CNW: That’s alarming and disturbing. How can we as an archdiocese improve the situation?

Archbishop Cupich: Well, I think it is about strengthening the family as the locus for the passing on of the faith. We do have very strong institutions — church, parish, school — that know how to do it. But have they become so strong that they have diminished the role of the family? Have they taken on too much?

What I compare it to is in the late 19th and early 20th century many of the American Indian communities had a very strong catechetical program where Native Americans were the catechists and passed on the faith. But then there were enough religious — priests and sisters — who came in and took that job away from them because they were the so-called experts, and they began to teach. But what happened is that the whole catechetical approach was crushed, the approach that depended on the witness of the faith by people in ordinary life.

So now we are at a point where there are fewer priests and religious to do the catechesis but the lay catechists system has also disappeared. So we have to make sure that we don’t make everything so strong at an institutional level that we forget about what the local participation is — whether if it’s in the family or the adult formation team in a parish. I think we are doing better on that. We’re building strong teams for RCIA; we have a lot of people, lay women and men, along with wonderful religious sisters who historically have been involved in religious education.

The To Teach Who Christ Is campaign has as one of its goals to enhance the quality of religious education by better preparing our catechists, most of whom are volunteers, to work with parents and families in passing on the faith. That’s a major component — how are we going to enhance the capabilities of all those who generously give their time to serve as religious educators and catechists? That’s so very important. I think that’s a key point.

CNW: How do you anticipate the pope’s visit in September impacting the Catholic Church in the United States?

Archbishop Cupich: It will make us once again proud to be Catholics because the pope has great popularity in the United States. He makes us proud.

I think that he will give us a lot to think about and to ponder because he speaks in such challenging ways about issues of the day that are real life issues. My hope is that he will provide a wakeup call on some very important issues about our faith and what it means for us to bring Christ to the world.

We’re fortunate at this time to be reflecting on that with the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign because the aspiration of Cardinal George in launching that was not about raising money but it was about positioning ourselves better to proclaim who Christ is in the church and for the world. That really falls in line with the program of the Holy Father. That’s why I see a wonderful connection between what we’re already doing in the archdiocese with what the Holy Father is doing.

CNW: Among Catholics in the United States there seems to be some confusion over what exactly the pope is saying. The news media will report one thing and the next day the Vatican is issuing a clarification.

Archbishop Cupich: You have to realize that many people in the secular press look at developments through their own lens. Often they are not familiar with our language or tradition and so we should be patient and help them interpret what the pope says. I think we’re naïve if we don’t do that.

The second point worth making is while the pope may not be talking about changing church teaching, he has indicated that we do need to look at changing some of the church’s procedures and practices. Those are two different matters.

We’ve seen changes in our practices and procedures before. For instance, we’ve had different ways in which cases have been heard by our tribunals in terms of annulments. We had the so-called Petrine Privilege introduced in the 20th century that built on the so-called Pauline Privilege. So we have had changes in procedures and practices with regards to marriage cases before.

But what’s interesting or new about what the pope is doing through the synod is that he is saying “let’s not start with the rules but let’s start with where people’s lives are,” what they are going through, what their pastoral needs are at this point that cannot be ignored if the church is really going to extend the mercy of Christ. That’s where we start.

What he has shifted is the starting point. It’s not the laws and the rules, it’s the situation in which people are living and how do we extend to them the mercy of Christ. That’s his main question and he says nothing is off the table. You cannot say, “You should not say that.” He is saying, “Everything must be talked about.”

CNW: What are your expectations for the Synod of Bishops on the Family to be held in Rome in October?

Archbishop Cupich: First of all, I like the process. The pope is introducing a new process here in which he is saying he really wants us to grapple with the issues and not just get up and make speeches. I think he is setting a new trend here that is going to be helpful to the church going forward for a long time. The Holy Father knows this will not be easy and he is asking us to do the hard work of thinking through how our teachings are lived, how our practices impact people. It is no longer sufficient to just repeat formulas of the past.

The second thing is we are dealing with some very important pastoral issues that we all struggle with as pastors and they have not been addressed. He is willing to have us look at them with great seriousness and a very profound reflection that involves a discernment of spirits. Yes, I have great hopes because of the process but also the topic.

CNW: What are some of those pastoral problems?

Archbishop Cupich: There are many people who are in so-called “irregular marriages,” where they are not able to receive the sacraments. And yet many times these people have been abandoned; some married too young or they lacked the maturity for marriage. But, those attending the synod will also need to deal with those people who are struggling with living out their faith after being hurt by people in the church or by how the teachings of the church have been presented. How do we reach out to them? How do we continue a dialogue with them in a way that shows respect to them and accompany them?

I think that those are the kinds of things that will be discussed and that’s why I said I’m so very pleased with the process because I think maybe he’s going to give us a way in which we’re going to deal with those situations in which people feel alienated within the church because of what the church has done or taught.

CNW: You recently visited the Cook County Jail. What did you see there?

Archbishop Cupich: Of course that was the second time that I visited Cook County Jail. I was there at Christmas. I said this time that I didn’t want to only talk to administrators. I really wanted to visit in some substantial way with prisoners. With the help of the wonderful chaplains, Father Arturo Perez and Deacon Pablo Perez, they prepared a good program for my visit so that I could visit directly with prisoners. All of our prison chaplains do such fine work with the help of so many other volunteers in this important ministry.

I was able to visit with a group of people who were in a recovery program and then another group that was involved in learning how to bake or to cook. They have a wonderful program. And then just to mingle with some other prisoners, get to know them, to find out something about their lives, how long they’ve been there.

Many of them told me that they’re there for non-violent crimes, some of them for DUIs, and they’ve been there up to a year because the justice system doesn’t move things along very well. We have to look for another way in which we’re going to do that and help give hope to people. Yes, people have to pay their dues to society and at the same time we have to be reasonable about how best to get people moving in the right direction for their lives.

CNW: Sheriff Dart, who is a Catholic, has frequently called the Cook County Jail the largest mental health institution in the country. Can the church help with this particular issue?

Archbishop Cupich: Well, first of all, with regard to the issue of mental health, we can advocate for more assistance for those who are mentally ill. We’re not really investing in helping people with mental illness and we are paying the price, whether it be with people on the street or people within our jail system. And also with the suffering that goes on in a person’s life who is not getting treatment. It is a hidden scandal in society today that deserves everyone’s attention.

We are doing, of course, what we can through our Catholic Charities and other agencies in which we promote good mental health. We also look for ways to help those who are suffering, who come to us in our shelters, many of them who are veterans. They have suffered and we can get them help through the veterans’ bureau. It is something that we try our best to do.

It is important that we continue to advocate on behalf of the mentally ill because they are easily forgotten. Most times they don’t vote. They are not a voting bloc that politicians look to but nonetheless they are our brothers and sisters and some of the most needy in our society today.

CNW: You’ve publicly expressed dismay over the level of violence in the city. What are you doing to better understand the problem? What do you want to see parishes and other Catholic institutions do to address it?

Archbishop Cupich: I am talking to a number of people. I am deeply troubled by it. At the same time, I am encouraged by how many of our parishes and communities have developed creative ways to reach out to families affected by violence and provided new opportunities for youth. I know a lot is happening at St. Sabina’s as one example.

I am deeply concerned, however, about this issue. So, it is important that when I speak about it, I do so in a way that’s going to make a contribution and not just grab a headline. I think it’s better to build a coalition of people who can really get things done rather than just talk about it. So I am committed to working with people of good will to improve the situation.

A lot of it, of course, does have to do with the guns that are available. That’s a serious problem. But it also has to do with the poverty, joblessness and hopelessness because young people today don’t have any hope and there is no alternative for them. So they are easy prey for gangs and other criminal activities.

These children are not born to be criminals. Their parents love them. They’re good people. They have aspirations like everybody else. But the opportunities are not there.

It’s a very complex issue and, as such, there’s a complex solution to it. So when and if I say anything about it I want to make sure that I contribute to the situation.

Our schools contribute to non-violence because what we’re doing is that we are giving the kids another chance. We give out an enormous amount of scholarships every year and we support a lot of our schools that educate children who are not Catholic.

In fact, between our schools, parishes and the diocese, we dedicate over $30 million to Catholic school education in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Then there are other organizations, like Big Shoulders, which has made an enormous contribution over the years, that make Catholic education possible for so many.

When we work together as adults we see the difference we can make in giving young people hope that their lives can be better. I am committed to doing my part in promoting our Catholic schools as much as we can with the limited resources available.

We welcome this opportunity to contribute to the future of young people in our community. But we can’t do it all. We do need assistance. There needs to be a stronger partnership between government and business and church leaders to help our schools continue to be strong — particularly in areas that are impoverished — that seems to me to be one of the best ways that we can fight violence in the future. Education is the great equalizer and we are good at it!