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Mass with the cardinal: Former Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich returns to receive lifetime achievement award

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 25, 2017, 12:23 p.m.

The cardinal is coming. The cardinal is coming.

The energy was palpable. Smiles were everywhere. Children were giddy. On this Sunday, at this cathedral, Cardinal Blase Cupich, the former bishop of Spokane, would return home and celebrate Sunday morning Mass, just as he had so many times in the past.

Some parishioners showed up early, parked themselves on a pew and read over the day’s program. They checked their texts, straightened their dresses, shirts and ties, and spoke together in happy agitation.

“Very excited,” said Sharon “Snow” White, as she scanned the pews for familiar faces. “Very very excited.”

White and her two friends, Jenne Mackey and Pat Paullin, drove over from Spokane Valley, where they’re regulars at St. Mary’s.

All three came just to see the cardinal, and to support White’s husband, who is a Knight of Columbus.

“She drives, so we have to go where she takes us,” joked Mackey, pointing to White.

As the clock struck 11 a.m., and with the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes packed to the brim, Cupich, decked flowing robes, walked at a measured pace down the center of the nave.

Since leaving Spokane to become Chicago’s archbishop in 2014, Cupich’s stature as a Catholic leader has continued to grow. Last year, he was one of 17 church leaders from six continents to be honored by Pope Francis in the consistory ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica as they joined the cardinals’ ranks.

His history with Spokane reaches back to 2010, when he was tapped to lead the city’s Catholic fellowship after bankruptcy ravaged its coffers following a crisis of sex abuse revelations that saw multiple lawsuits brought against the church across the country. There he stayed for four years, before departing to lead Chicago’s more than 2 million Catholics – the third-largest diocese in the U.S.

But on Sunday, on top of the altar and while leading Mass, Cupich was in a much more familiar role.

“It really is a delight to be here with you again,” he said to the assembly before leading them through song and prayer. “The community continues to grow and prosper in faith.”

After a few opening words, Mass was underway as the clergy moved from song to prayer. Taking the pulpit, Cupich read from the Gospel of Matthew of the “peril of the kingdom,” wherein man is lost and God is looking for him.

In making his point, he told a humorous anecdote about a man falling into a hole. First, a doctor came upon the hole and offered the man a prescription. Then, a minister who offered him prayer. Third was an engineer who drew him up plans to build a ladder.

Finally, the hole was visited by the man’s friend, Joe, who jumped into the hole with him.

“This is how we are to look at each,” Cupich said. “We are all in a hole. We are all lost … We should help us find each other.”

The cardinal’s reason for being in Spokane wasn’t just for Mass. It was, in fact, to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Nazareth Guild, which provides financial assistance to students attending local Catholic schools.

Cupich flew into Chicago from Rome on Friday, flew to Spokane on Saturday and had plans to fly back Sunday evening for work Monday morning. But it was no bother – he said he would have made the trip even if he didn’t win the award.

“I really felt proud to be standing with these people who had done so much,” he said after Mass. “Though, if it’s a lifetime award, does that mean it’s all over for me?”

After leading Holy Communion and concluding the service, Cupich stood at the cathedral doors, shaking hands and blessing those who asked.

Cupich, who is originally from the Midwest, said it was easy adjusting to the Chicago weather and lifestyle. But Spokane, on a clear and crisp fall morning, with the sun shining, is where his heart still yearns to be.

“It was a delight to see my good friends I made in the four years I was here,” he said. “It really was coming home.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 to correct an error regarding the Nazareth Guild.