Chicago — Preaching at the first of three public ceremonies Monday evening that mark his installation as the ninth archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich offered a meditation on leadership.
For the Rite of Reception, during which he is formally welcomed into Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral after ritually knocking on the church's front doors, Cupich reflected on the image of "dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun" used by the Prophet Ezekiel and the poetry of T.S. Elliot.
He also pledged to work with parish and civic groups to combat gangs and youth violence and to work for comprehensive immigration reform.
The people to whom Ezekiel preached, he said, "have suffered the humiliating defeat by Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The people are scattered and disconnected, with hopes broken and barren."
This is a dryness "that not infrequently afflicts human existence," said Cupich, 65*, who Pope Francis appointed Sept. 20 to replace Cardinal Francis George, who has reached retirement age.
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"The prophet draws our attention to this rather bleak scene, not to chastise or criticize, to dishearten or discourage," Cupich said. "Rather … this representative, this voice of God, is consoling us with the message that the Lord of Creation, is with us, is walking through this dryness with us, the dryness we face each and every day as leaders."
Cupich's inaugural homily was delivered before a cathedral packed with fellow bishops from around the U.S. and the world, and representatives from the archdiocese's 350 parishes and lay, clerical and religious leaders as well as civic and political leaders, ecumenical and interreligious representatives. Among the political leaders greeting Cupich were Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Cupich will be installed at a ceremony in the cathedral Tuesday afternoon.
Much of the homily Monday evening was directed at civil and faith leaders.
"We, who are public servants, pastors, leaders know well this kind of dryness that ails the human soul and fatigues both body and spirit. We come face to face with it in the service to our citizens and the ministry to our parishioners," he said.
"It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives.
"We see that dryness caked on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation."
A leader is one who, the new archbishop said, "it should be beneath our dignity as leaders to speak in ways that appeal to the fears and anxieties of people rather than the hopes and yearnings God has planted in their hearts."
He continued: "It is not surprising that parishioners, citizens and the public become uneasy and disaffected with community and public life when they see leaders speak in ways that incite fears rather than inspire hope. There is collateral damage in such tactics."
As an example of the "collateral damage," Cupich cited young people who have become disaffected from religion and public life.
"There is a dryness in many people's lives because they have little experience of being connected in society," he said. He congratulated the church and community leaders of the "great work" he said he has seen them engaged in already. "Our aim should be to make sure that everyone has a place at the table of life," he said.
Ezekiel offers three words to comfort, to encourage and to keep the believers focus "on all that God is doing, so that our ways may be God's ways." The three words, Cupich said, are spirit, people and land.
Ezekiel's promise of land for the people "is not just about real estate," Cupich said. It is a promise of giving people "stability and a sense of belonging."
"God's desire to bring about this sense of belonging is present in the aspirations of every migrant and immigrant, and that is why they need to be respected, treated with justice and welcomed. … The work of comprehensive immigration reform is not important because it is on my agenda, but because it is on God's."
Youth without stability "turn to drugs, gangs, and lethal violence," he said. "I am aware that good people within our parishes and in the city are working imaginatively to address this issue. ... You will find in me a ready partner."
"As I begin my service to welcome new friendships with other leaders in our parishes, in the business community, labor and government ... I recognize the enormous opportunity and promise that God is putting before us as we use our connections to help the disconnected, all the while respecting each other's challenges," he concluded.
[Dennis Coday, editor of NCR, is in Chicago for the installation ceremonies. Follow his live reporting Tuesday on Twitter: @dcoday.]
* An earlier version of this story listed Cupich's age incorrectly.