Faith

The Pope’s Bishop in America

Meet Chicago's new Catholic leader

Chicago is a city in flux. Its Catholics received a new leader in November 2014 with some hope, but they first had to bury a beloved retired prince of the church.

“A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord,” the new Archbishop of Chicago, Blasé Cupich, said when he announced Francis Cardinal George’s death in April.

Some are anxious to see how Cupich will measure up to “America’s Ratzinger.” Pope Francis’s choice to lead the archdiocese sets a tone for U.S. Catholics.

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In a phone conversation, Cupich shared thoughts about Catholic identity on campuses, what he would contribute to this fall’s gathering at the Vatican on the family, and whether he is a Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox fan.

How can Catholic universities in America regain sight of their institutional identities?

It’s very important to keep in mind that there’s always a tension in making sure that the Catholic ethos and inspiration that gave rise to the university continues to be handed on from one generation to another. At the same time, it’s also important to realize that universities are laboratories where people do grow. They need the space to make sure that they incrementally understand the faith. Sometimes that means it’s not all at once — there has to be a certain pedagogy to it.

There has to be some awareness of teaching people how to think theologically.

We also know that a good number of students in our Catholic universities are not Catholic. For instance, various theology classes can’t turn into catechetical institutes. There has to be some awareness of teaching people how to think theologically. That tension is always going to be there in an institution of higher learning.

Loyola University Chicago recently hosted transgender activist Laverne Cox. How should a Catholic university navigate thorny concerns like that?

I don’t know the context of the person coming there, so I can’t really comment on that particular issue. I do know there are issues of concern to students, and if you can use a controlled environment by which there can be honest and open dialogue so people do come to an awareness of what the truth is, that’s of value. It’s always of value for people to take different steps towards the truth — even in terms of a point-counterpoint. That’s a legitimate way for a university to educate people, in general.

When the Synod on the Family convenes again this fall, Communion for the divorced and remarried is an issue to be discussed. Where do you align on that issue?

I don’t think that’s a big issue. The real issue today for families and marriage within the church is: How can the family continue to be the place where the Gospel is passed on? That seems to be where the real crisis is. Some are concerned about a decline in Mass attendance, and that is troublesome. However, I believe we’ve lost a sense in the church that the family is where the Gospel is communicated.

We have to help our families see that if the faith is going to continue, it’s going to have to be handed on within the context of the family.

We have to help our families see that if the faith is going to continue, it’s going to have to be handed on within the context of the family. As for the other issues of who can go to Communion and all the rest of it, those are not unimportant, but they’re not the central issues. The Synod should not concern itself with those kinds of technical questions.

If you were to make a specific contribution to the Synod, what would it be?

I’ve been a priest now for 40 years and I think that marriage preparation is too focused on the relationship between the couple. We don’t do a very good job in the church of helping people who get married to see the role they have in bringing children into the world and passing on the faith. We don’t accompany them there.

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Pope Francis has repeatedly asked us to “accompany” people. We have to put together marriage preparation programs that factor into the equation of how we are asking them to create a family, a place where the faith is passed on. We don’t talk about that at all to married couples.

How important is that kind of training for Catholics at an early age?

Well, that kind of catechesis is going to be effective not only if it is done well in the classroom, but also if it is supported at home. Too many people believe that they don’t have responsibility for passing on the faith. They think that they can take a child to religious education, go off and pick up the laundry and come back and pick-up a Catholic. We’re not serving families well by not challenging parents to take on the catechesis with us. It starts with building a whole new generation of married couples who see the importance of their part in passing on the faith.

What are your plans to stem the tide of Catholics leaving the church?

It’s not just the Catholic church that is losing regular church attendance. It’s the case for all of the mainstream, mainline religions. The real issue here is there is a redefinition of the human person that the culture wants to promote: that the human person lives in isolation, who is autonomous, who is the author of their own life, and who wants to be left alone. That’s opposed to the church’s understanding that the human person is relational, who lives in community with others and whose life is defined in terms of their relationship with others.

We need to start with this: How do you see your life? Is it lived in isolation, or do you see the value of relationships where we make demands on each other in faith?

That is scary to some people because communities make expectations of us. We live in a culture today that has a very strong market-driven understanding of human life that wants to divide us. It’s easier to sell products to individuals rather than to communities.

We need to start with this question: How do you see your life? Is it lived in isolation or do you see the value of relationships where we make demands on each other in faith?

Are you planning to orient the archdiocese around that question?

I am going to be working with lay and ordained leaders to help people build strong communities that are attractive. We have to make our communities attractive again, where living in a community can be life-giving. That’s how the early church started. When you look at the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles, people who were not Christians looked at them and noticed how they loved one another. The more relational our communities can be, the more attractive they will be.

What role do traditional communities, like parishes that celebrate the Tridentine Mass, have in attracting people?

People come at their own expression of faith in different ways, and I’m respectful of that. I’ve never tried to interfere in how people relate to God. The church does allow for a wide expression of the faith. People who are more “traditional,” as you call them, celebrate the liturgy much differently than, say, in Africa. We should be respectful of people’s own religious piety if it is life-giving for them.

I would also challenge whether or not a group can really call themselves “traditional” if they cannot take the period that’s in recent history and call themselves “traditional” when we are a 2,000-year-old church. Maybe there has to be another name for that. All of these various expressions of the faith are within the tradition.

Cubs or Sox?

Bears.

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