At funeral, Cardinal George remembered for close relationship with God

  • Written by Michelle Martin and Joyce Duriga, Catholic News Service
  • Published in National
A woman grieves at the casket of Cardinal Francis E. George at the April 22 visitation at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Cardinal George, who retired as archbishop of Chicago in 2014, died April 17 after a long battle with cancer. Photo: CNS/John Smierciak, Catholic New World A woman grieves at the casket of Cardinal Francis E. George at the April 22 visitation at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Cardinal George, who retired as archbishop of Chicago in 2014, died April 17 after a long battle with cancer. Photo: CNS/John Smierciak, Catholic New World

CHICAGO - Cardinal Francis E. George was fond of reminding people that their relationships with God and with each other are what endures and everything else "goes to the grave," Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain told worshippers at Holy Name Cathedral during the cardinal's funeral Mass.

"The only thing we take with us when we die is what we have given away," Archbishop Sartain quoted Cardinal George as often saying.

The hundreds of people who attended the funeral April 23, the feast of St. George, reflected on relationships with him, whether they knew him personally or as their archbishop.

"I think with the cardinal, he was always approachable," said Jim Murray, director of liturgy at St. Gilbert Parish in Grayslake, Illinois. "You could come to him and talk with him about any concerns you might have."

Murray, who once worked at the archdiocese's Office for Divine Worship, said the funeral is the third for a Chicago archbishop that he has attended. The Mass celebrated for the cardinal was very well done, he said, and he was pleased to see people from across the archdiocese as well as the presence of hundreds of priests and bishops from around the United States and beyond.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., nine American cardinals and 65 bishops and archbishops attended the Mass including Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich.

Angie and Frank Sevilla from Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Illinois, said they were impressed with the way the congregation mirrored the composition of the archdiocese. Frank Sevilla served on the archdiocesan pastoral council for two years and respected the cardinal's work.

"Now we just have to continue," he said.

Angie Sevilla said the cardinal was a friend to the Filipino community.

"He was a great supporter of Simbang Gabi," the Filipino novena leading to Christmas, she said.

For Kathy Wallace of Chicago's St. Ailbe Parish, the funeral Mass was "an opportunity to pay our respects to a great leader of the archdiocese."

The funeral was the culmination of three days of services, which included an all-night vigil attended by lay ecclesial movements. Cardinal George died April 17 after a long battle with cancer.

Archbishop Sartain spoke of the cardinal's great faith and the way his suffering from polio when he was 13 and cancer later in life formed him to the cross. It was the cardinal's request to be buried with his leg brace, which he wore for more than 60 years.

"He offered a life joined to the cross of Christ," said Archbishop Sartain, who was selected by the cardinal to be the homilist. "The crosses of Francis George transformed him both exteriorly and interiorly into a man of compassion for all who suffered, no matter the cause. It was with the Lord's own love, poured out on the cross, that he loved us."

Cardinal George's faith was expressed through a "brilliant mind in love with God," giving his talks and writings a foundation of clarity, creativity and the "natural interplay between faith and reason," the archbishop said.

"I console myself with the fact that even though I could never have written the books he wrote or prepared the talks he gave, I could understand them," Archbishop Sartain joked.

But, he added, sometimes the afterthoughts, the off-the-cuff responses Cardinal George offered could be just as eloquent and incisive.

"What did Cardinal George offer to the Lord, what did he give away?" Archbishop Sartain said. "He offered a life joined to the cross of Christ; a life of faith, hope, conviction and courage; a soul devoted to prayer; a brilliant mind in love with God; a vision of the New Jerusalem. Because he gave these things and more away, he took them with him to meet the Lord. ... What Francis George received, he handed on to us. So has it ever been in the church, and so shall it ever be, now through you and me."

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Cupich offered words of condolence and support to Margaret Cain, Cardinal George's sister, and the rest of his family. He thanked the dignitaries who attended, including Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for their support, and thanked the media for carrying the services surrounding the cardinal's death to a wider audience. Rauner declared April 23 "Francis Cardinal George Day" in Illinois.

The Mass ended with Archbishop Roger L. Schweitz of Anchorage, Alaska, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order to which Cardinal George belonged, offering the final prayer of commendation, imploring God to "open the gates of paradise to your servant."

Then his casket was carried out of the cathedral by a group of pallbearers made up of priests ordained by Cardinal George in the past two years. Overall, the cardinal ordained 222 priests for the archdiocese.

Following Mass a funeral procession, which included four buses of mourners, made its way to All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois, where Cardinal George requested to be buried in his family plot. Other Chicago cardinals and archbishops are buried either at Mundelein Seminary or in the bishops' chapel at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

In a move reserved mostly for U.S. presidents, a portion of the Kennedy Expressway was closed just before rush hour so the procession could travel past Cardinal George's home parish and school, St. Pascal, in the city's Portage Park neighborhood. Students from the school waved to the procession as it passed and other mourners lined the route to the cemetery.

More than 200 people greeted the procession at All Saints, including a homeschooling group that held a sign reading "Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord."

"We loved Cardinal George," said Wanda Glitz, who came with the group. "We just wanted to come and say goodbye and honor him as he comes to his final resting place."

Martin is a staff writer and Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.