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The congregation at St. Sabina Catholic Church rose to its feet and erupted with cheer last Sunday when they learned they would have only one more Sunday without their longtime pastor in the pulpit.

Parishioners with raised, waved hands shouted, “He is my pastor,” after a church official read a statement from Cardinal Francis George stating that Father Michael Pfleger is a “priest in good standing” and has not been stripped of his pastoral duties.

He can return June 16. Relief and joy filled the sanctuary, and a smiling young girl and boy gave each other a high-five after the news. “He’s our shepherd,” said Cedric Robinson, 35, a member of St. Sabina for the last four years. The Cardinal demanded the outspoken cleric take a two-week leave of absence after he delivered accusatory remarks about a presidential candidate during a May 25 guest sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ.

Pfleger said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., claimed white entitlement during her campaign for the White House, and said that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was “stealing my show.” The comments, repeatedly replayed during newscasts via YouTube, drew national attention. Obama denounced Pfleger’s statements, and once again distanced himself from Trinity.

Admitting is was poor judgment, Pfleger apologized twice about the remarks. Cardinal George accepted the apology and told him to refrain from merging politics and religion. But, about a week later, the Cardinal announced Pfleger would have to leave his parish temporarily. Rev. William Vanecko of St. Killian’s Church was appointed the temporary administrator in Pfleger’s absence.

Pfleger’s departure prevented him from performing a wedding last week and attending the St. Sabina kindergarten class’s graduation. Robinson said the temporary removal was “too severe,” but opted to continue worshipping at the church in Pfleger’s absence.

In a letter read by Kimberly Lymore, associate minister of the parish, Pfleger said, “This has been a very painful time for me,” and asked his congregation to continue supporting the church’s many planned activities and to remain prayerful while he was gone. “Let this time be a teaching moment for us to hear from the Lord,” the pastor’s letter stated.

A few parishioners thought about foregoing services until Pfleger returned, but knew that the pastor would not be in favor of it. “Staying home was not something he would have wanted us to do,” Tammy Wilson, a 13-year member said. Upon his return, Pfleger is not allowed%uFFFDas any other Catholic priestto talk about political candidates.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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