Cardinal Francis George listens as the gospel is read after he blessed palms before Palm Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, April 13, 2014. | Jessica Koscielniak / Sun-Times
Updated: May 15, 2014 6:22AM
Cardinal Francis George wished Catholics across Chicago a prayerful Holy Week Sunday during a Palm Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, but lamented that he cannot assume as public of a role as he is accustomed to in the days leading up to Easter.
“I will not be able to greet anyone at the door of the church as I love to do after a Mass such as this,” George told churchgoers, adding, “Because I’m not supposed to be shaking hands with huge numbers of people this week, I would hope that you that you will accept my sincere wishes now, to each and every one of you personally, for a prayerful celebration this week.”
Last month the 77-year-old George said his cancer — which had been in remission for more than a year — had returned. After undergoing chemotherapy, he took a brief hiatus from treatment when flu-like symptoms sent him to the hospital last month.
Widespread social interaction is discouraged for some chemotherapy patients because the treatment lowers their immune system and ability to fight back illness — making even a routine cold a serious threat, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Somebody like the Cardinal is going to have a large audience, and who knows who has the sniffles?” Amy Jo Steinbruecker, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, explained.
George, who celebrated the Mass, also did not give communion to churchgoers, as he usually does. And he remained seated — instead of standing — while delivering the homily.
George, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is also forgoing a trip to Rome for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. He has previously said that his doctors advised him not to travel because of the treatments.
George expressed optimism on Friday, telling reporters that the chemotherapy will hopefully help him beat back the cancer. But he also said that he has urged church officials to begin the process of finding his replacement, because his health may prevent him from devoting himself fully to the job.
On Sunday, George concluded Mass by promising to pray for local Catholics while also asking for their prayers.
“I will keep you in my prayers, as I hope I’ll be in yours,” he said.
Across Chicago and around the world, Christians marked Palm Sunday — the day Jesus’ followers laid palms in his path and waved them as he entered Jerusalem in the week leading up to his death and resurrection.