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Cardinal George: With God and prayers, ‘I’m sure it’ll be all right’

Cardinal George gives communiduring mass celebrating 125th anniversary St. Joseph Parish 4821 S. Hermitage Saturday September 1 2012. l Tom

Cardinal George gives communion during a mass celebrating the 125th anniversary of St. Joseph Parish at 4821 S. Hermitage Saturday September 1, 2012. l Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:33AM

With a slower gait and visibly requiring a little more effort than usual, Cardinal Francis George entered a South Side church Saturday to keep his commitment to lead the celebration of its 125th anniversary, despite preparing to begin chemotherapy this week.

Speaking publicly for the first time about his recently announced battle with recurring cancer, George, in an interview with the Sun-Times, declared he was feeling fine, and ready for the next leg of his journey.

“Well, I’m anticipating it a little bit, but otherwise, right now, I’m feeling good,” the Cardinal said.

“I haven’t been through it before. I didn’t have chemo when I had bladder cancer the first time, so I don’t know what to expect. It’s different for everybody, and so with the help of God, and a lot of prayers of an awful lot of people, I’m sure it’ll be all right.”

George’s comments came before saying the celebratory mass at St. Joseph Parish, at 4821 S. Hermitage, a longtime welcoming refuge for immigrant families in one of the city’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods, Back of the Yards.

He had committed to the financially struggling but vibrant parish months ago, long before his cancer was discovered to have returned in August.

“We were really honored that he said yes, because you know, we were preparing more than a year,” the Rev. Hugo Leon Londono, said before George’s arrival.

“Then we said ‘Oh my God,’ when we learned two weeks ago that the Cardinal was again fighting the cancer, and we felt really sad. But when we called him, he said, ‘No, we’re going to go. I’m still going,’ ” Londono said.

“I think it’s beautiful because he’s the shepherd of the Chicago Archdiocese and it’s a blessing that he comes to this community that is a little, like, away from everyone, and where people even feel afraid to come.”

Upon entering the church, the Cardinal was greeted by a standing ovation from former and current parishioners who filled pews to capacity. His homily — about not just talking the talk if one has faith, but walking the walk — seemed personal.

“Over 125 years, there is a lot of history. There are good times and bad, just as there are in our personal lives, and it is God who carries us through,” he told the flock. “We want the kind of faith that gives us inexpressible joy, that deep, deep joy from knowing God is always there with us, and for us.”

When mass ended, and he’d received another standing ovation, George told the crowd, “I want to thank you for your prayers. It is appreciated. In the midst of sickness, I know that I am sustained by your prayers, and by the love of God.”

Later, George told the Sun-Times he intends to try and keep as many of his commitments as possible during treatment, as he draws strength from his flock.

And to others suffering from cancer and chronic illness, he had this to say:

“Faith tells us that we are never alone. Illness isolates you, because you have to kind of live inside the pain of your skin. But the faith tells you that no matter how difficult it becomes, you’re never alone. So that’s my message — Rely upon the presence of those who are seen and those who aren’t seen. Faith unites us with those who aren’t seen, so know we are never alone.”

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