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Congregation applauds Pfleger, who says he wants to stay at St. Sabina

The Rev. Michael Pfleger assured concerned parishioners at Sunday morning mass that he did not want to leave St. Sabina’s but that the decision was out of his hands.

“My life is in God’s hands. What happens at St. Sabina’s is in God’s hands,” he said.

Pfleger went on to say that the parish and its Auburn Gresham community will not fall apart if he leaves. He then delivered a Lenten sermon on dealing with life’s trials.

However, parishioners were not convinced that losing their longtime pastor would not be detrimental.

“It is just heartbreaking that they want to move Fr. Pfleger,” said parishioner Johnnie Money, 67. “He’s wonderful and done so much here. I just don’t see how they could take him from us.”

Last week, Pfleger confirmed that Cardinal Francis George asked him to leave the parish after 30 years, far longer than the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago typically lets priests stay in one place.

The cardinal asked Pfleger to take over leadership of the nearby Leo High School, according to news reports.

On Sunday, Pfleger reiterated his comment last week that he has sent a response to Cardinal George and that it would be inappropriate to comment further.

“It would be wrong to say what was in the letter without the cardinal’s response,” Pfleger told the packed church. “I have sent my suggestions and thoughts to the cardinal. I have also said to the cardinal that my desire is to remain at St. Sabina’s.”

His comments brought a standing ovation from the congregation whose members were unanimous in their belief that losing Pfleger would be nothing but bad news.

Pfleger, whose fiery, hour-long sermons are legendary, is so identified with the parish, an anchor of Auburn Gresham, that few can comprehend a future without his guidance.

“We’re hoping he can maybe do both St. Sabina’s and Leo,” said Monica Linnear, 54. “It would be very, very sad to lose him.”

Church member Ogugua Odume said the rumored move to Leo High School would deprive the congregation the chance to follow him to another parish.

“If Fr. Pfleger was going to another church, the people of St. Sabina’s would follow him,” Odume, 42, said. And she also worries about what would happen to their “different kind of worship service” if a more traditional-minded priest is assigned to the parish.

Pfleger put his situation in perspective, saying “there are much more serious issues” in the world. He cited the struggle for survival in Japan and the escalating war in Libya.

Cardinal George presided Sunday during a mass at All Saints-St. Anthony Church, 518 W. 28th Place, but declined to discuss the Pfleger situation. In 2008, George removed Pfleger from the church for two weeks because of comments he made mocking Hillary Clinton, saying she believed she was entitled to the Democratic nomination because she is white.

Pfleger, on his Facebook page Saturday, said, “I can’t say much on FB because there are too many SPIES, but ... please Pray. I await the response of the Archdiocese.

“Thank you for all the prayers, text, emails, calls of support and asking what can we do, from around the country. Right now just pray. And to my haters, don’t order the party balloons yet!”

Contributing: Monifa Thomas, David Roeder

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