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Next Chicago archbishop arrives in new hometown

November 14, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) — Blase Cupich, the next archbishop of Chicago, arrived in his new hometown Thursday with little fanfare, wheeling his own carry-on bag.

Flying in from Baltimore, where he’d attended a meeting of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, Cupich landed at O’Hare International Airport and greeted journalists. He said he looked forward to working with civic and faith leaders in Chicago to “improve the plight of people” and will try to get to know his new parishioners.

“The people in Chicago are much like the people in Omaha, where I grew up,” Cupich said. “They work hard, they pray hard and they love their families.”

Next week, the 65-year-old Cupich takes over one of the biggest dioceses in the United States, where he’ll lead 2.2 million Catholics. He has held a number of posts within the Catholic Church, including parish priest, president of a seminary and bishop. He most recently led the Diocese of Spokane, Washington.

But the Chicago position is easily the most high profile he has ever held. If history is any indication, he can expect to be elevated to cardinal as both George and his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, were after taking leadership of the archdiocese. That would make him eligible to vote for the next pope.

Another measure of the archdiocese’s standing is the fact that both Bernardin and George served as presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The spotlight will be even brighter because his appointment to replace the retiring 77-year-old Cardinal Francis George, who is battling cancer, was Pope Francis’ first major decision about the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Cupich has already won some praise in Chicago, particularly among Latino parishioners for his stance on immigration reform. Cupich, who is of Croatian descent, said that his family legacy shapes his views on the need for changes in U.S. immigration policy to increase lawful ways for immigrants to live and work in the United States.

He’s has broken with tradition in his choice of living quarters, picking the more modest rectory at Holy Name Cathedral instead of the archdiocese’s North State Parkway mansion. In that choice, Cupich is taking after Pope Francis, who chooses to live in the Vatican hotel instead of the papal apartments.

On Thursday, Cupich maintained a humble profile, saying he’d booked the cheapest flight he could and telling reporters that it didn’t occur to him to tell his airplane seatmate who he was. He said that he usually takes public transit into the city but that a car service had been arranged for him this time.

He mentioned that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has planned a reception for him next week and said that he thinks the two will work together on common goals.

“We are both Chicagoans, and I think that’s important for us to keep in mind,” Cupich said.

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