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Remembering Cardinal George

May 15, 2015
Father Eugene Hemrick

We are never quite the same after experiencing endearing moments that touch us. The recent death of Cardinal Francis E. George, retired archbishop of Chicago, reminds me of cherished moments.

Right after the death of my father, I had to fly to the town of Yakima, Washington, to work with Cardinal George, who was then the bishop of that diocese. He was working on a study being contemplated by the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in Washington, D.C.

When I arrived at the airport, Cardinal George picked me up in his car and gave me a tour of his diocese, which had a growing Latino population.

I will never forget how consoling he was when he heard of my dad’s death. When he found out, he let business wait. He wanted to be there for me. It was an endearing moment in which a lifelong friendship was born.

This past year, my brother died. The day after my brother’s burial, I stayed at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and concelebrated Sunday Mass with Cardinal George. At one point, I broke down. Cardinal George put his arm on my shoulder, giving me the courage to continue. Again, he was there for me.

No matter what rank, power or possessions a person has when he or she dies, what counts most is how they reached out to others who needed their support, how they stood at the side of another person and shared his or her pain. Entering into another person’s pain is most difficult because it is a reminder that we, too, will someday experience it. It’s a thought most of us run from.

The record will show that as busy as Cardinal George was, he dealt with the problems of those around him. Even though he was fatigued, he dropped everything around him to be at the side of one who needed a priest, not a cardinal, but a priest with a loving, understanding and compassionate heart.

Cardinal George had another side to him: that of being an intellectual. He loved ideas and was also known for strongly advocating orthodoxy and following the rules, which he felt was his job. He could be a stickler, and yet he was a priest first.

One of the expectations of the priesthood is being a consoler. At times, when a death or tragedy is extremely difficult to bear, a priest is called and is expected to be at the side of the bereaved. He need not say anything, he only needs to be there. And Cardinal George did that for me.

 

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