CHICAGO (CBS) — A large delegation from Chicago arrived in Rome Friday morning to witness history for Archbishop Blase Cupich, who becomes a cardinal during a special mass on Saturday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel led a delegation of about 80 elected officials, clergy, business leaders, and city officials who have assembled for the event where all eyes will be on Pope Francis when he places a red skullcap on Cupich’s head.
Hundreds of Chicagoans will be on hand to honor a man who has embraced Chicago as much as the city has embraced him.
Emanuel met with Cupich on Friday on the eve of his big day at the Vatican and expressed his admiration for the soon-to-be-cardinal.
“He has a voice of tolerance in a time when intolerance is gaining credence,” the mayor told CBS 2 Special Correspondent Jay Levine.
The mayor’s not alone. Another of the bishops getting a red hat is a former Chicago parish priest, now archbishop of Indianapolis, Joseph Tobin.
“I share a lot the values and the visions of Archbishop Cupich,” he said. “I admire what he’s doing in Chicago.”
Archbishop Cupich spent the day with family and friends in the hilltop town of Assisi.
Besides Chicagoans, others in Rome remembered him from former posts, including his hometown of Omaha.
Bob Heck of Omaha recalls spending social time with Cupich in a wine cellar. At that point, the archbishop walked by and advised Heck, “Be kind!”
Cupich turned serious during a homily, where he talked about unity, bringing people together.
When Levine first met Cupich, the bishop was holding a Chicago Bears jersey, so it should have been little surprise when he asked for a special audience to present Pope Francis with a Cubs World Series hat and ball.
“I pulled him aside, and I said, ‘You know, I’d like to give this to you. Is there an occasion? I’ll be here until the weekend.’ And he said yes, so he called his secretary over and said ‘Let’s put him on the schedule,’” Cupich said.
Even the St. Louis-born Cardinals fan who manages then media at the Vatican was caught up in the World Series, though he couldn’t say what Pope Francis did with the Cubs hat.
“We’re waiting to see it. All the gifts go into a room. I have to admit, that is one I’d like,” said Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office.
Burke said it’s no surprise the Pope seems to have bonded with Cupich, making him among the first Americans he elevated to cardinal.
“These picks are super personal, and so obviously he sees something he likes,” he said.
For his part, Cupich implied he’s just a bit player in the event which has drawn hundreds of Chicagoans to Rome this weekend.
“I just think people are excited about it, but they’re also excited about this Pope,” he said.
Cupich is one of 13 archbishops or bishops who will become cardinals on Saturday, joining the ranks of the pope’s top advisors. Two of those bishops are from the U.S. – Cupich and Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, who used to serve as a pastor in Chicago in the Lakeview neighborhood.
The ceremony begins Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Peter’s Basilica. That’s 4 a.m. Chicago time.
The responsibilities Cupich has been given by the Pope, and the honors he’s been awarded – including Saturday’s elevation to cardinal – seem proof positive that the bond between them is getting stronger.