(CBS) — He’s the missing man: Francis Cardinal George.

For the first time in 17 years, due to his poor health, he isn’t leading the Chicago Catholic delegation to an important papal event.

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CBS 2’s Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports from Rome.

At a special Mass for pilgrims at the tomb of John Paul II on Friday, pilgrims asked for prayers for those who were ailing — among them Francis Cardinal George.

“I wish he could be here,” Jean Sikora of St. John, Ind. said. “I know he’s following it. He’s going through his own trials right now.”

This was an event the Cardinal didn’t want to miss because of his relationship with John Paul II.

Pope Francis appears in no rush to replace the cardinal who submitted his resignation more than two years ago, despite his frequent hints that the Vatican should at least start the search.

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An exhaustive poll of U.S. church leaders will start only after the process begins in Chicago.

Past conventional wisdom would include as possible choices Bishops Conference President Joseph Kurtz, Seattle’s J. Peter Sartain, and a Chicagoan, Atlanta’s Wilton Gregory. The question is whether they fit the criteria clearly laid out by the pope.

Meanwhile, a large contingent of Chicago-area residents was present in Rome. The reason so many are watching with such great interest is the bond that developed between John Paul II and Chicago.

It was symbolized by a private Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Friday’s Mass was invitation-only and was partly in English and partly in Polish.

The Chicagoans recalled the Pope’s historic trip to Chicago back in 1979, and his description of Chicago as “the second Polish city in the world.”

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