Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Word from Chicago

The last official update yesterday morning said that Cardinal Francis George "continues to do well," and is grateful for the outpouring of prayers since his Thursday surgery for bladder and ureter cancer.

Today's Tribune touches on the cardinal's openness in addressing his illness.
At a time when life-threatening ailments have afflicted other high-profile figures, including Cook County Board President John Stroger and Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley, George's battle with bladder cancer is distinguished by his candor. As the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, however, George has a different role than most newsmakers.

"A pastor is like a father figure," said Colleen Dolan, communications director for the Chicago archdiocese. "They should be very open with their extended family. He's always been incredibly candid about things. That's very helpful to people who care about him, and it helps people get to know him."

Chicago's archbishops have not always been so forthcoming.

When Cardinal John Cody died in 1982, most people did not know he had suffered from congestive heart failure for quite some time.

Many believe it was Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's public battle with pancreatic cancer in 1995 and 1996 that set the tone for how much a prelate should share about his health with the wider church. Some believe George's instruction to his staff to speak openly about his illness also reflects his lifelong struggle as a survivor of polio--a childhood disease he rarely brings up, but one that has helped shape his ministry.

"Here's a man who has lived with disability most of his life, needing assistance to get up the steps and walking with a limp, and so I think he's conscious of mortality that we all share," Senior said. "There's nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide behind. He's been schooled in that all his life."

Others believe it represents a holistic understanding of a person as both body and spirit.

"If spiritual leadership is not just confined to the human spirit, but it can touch the whole of our human experience, then it ought not be restricted to just spiritual matters," said Rev. Gilbert Ostdiek, a professor at the Catholic Theological Union.

Sharing the experience with others, Ostdiek said, can open doors of compassion and deepen the faith of those around them.
Further updates on George's condition will be posted on the archdiocesan website. Results of the crucial pathology tests are expected to be completed near the end of the week.