New U.S. cardinals discuss their ministry


Catholic News Service

ROME — Dressed in red from head to toe, almost, the two new U.S. cardinals met the press after the consistory Feb. 18, sharing humorous quips and serious reflections.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned photographers not to take pictures of his feet because, he said, “I forgot to put on my red socks.”

Meeting the media at Rome’s Pontifical North American College before a reception, both Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said the first thing on their minds as they walked up to Pope Benedict XVI to receive their red hats was not to trip and fall.

U.S. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan congratulates U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien after they receive their red hats from Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 18. (CNS/Paul Haring)

An Italian newspaper writer had described Cardinal Dolan as a possible candidate for pope one day.

Asked about that, Cardinal O’Brien said, “His mother thinks so.”

But Cardinal O’Brien added that, given Cardinal Dolan’s position as archbishop of New York and especially given the brilliance of his presentation on new evangelization Feb. 17 to the College of Cardinals, the New York prelate is bound to be given special responsibilities in the universal church.

Cardinal Dolan also was asked about being “papabile” – “pope-able” in Italian — and he laughed it off, claiming in Italian that he did not understand the question.

The two U.S. cardinals had both served as rectors of the North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome.

After the consistory, the halls and courtyard of the seminary were filled with thousands of well-wishers.

Msgr. James F. Checchio, the current rector, said, “To have two former rectors naturally brings out great numbers of people. But mostly it’s because of who they are, two great men. And the weather’s cooperated. We were planning on putting everyone inside, but were able to fit hundreds of people in the courtyard” because the weather turned warm and sunny.

Cardinal O’Brien, who continues to administer the Baltimore archdiocese until his successor is named, said the consistory was a reminder that every Catholic, whether lay or ordained, has a responsibility for the whole church and not just for one parish or diocese.

Asked about his titular church, St. Sebastian on the Palatine Hill, Cardinal O’Brien said he tried to visit it “the other day — but it was locked.”

The church, whose foundations date back at least to the 10th century, stands amid the ruins of imperial Roman residences. It was built on the site of ancient Rome’s Temple of the Unconquered Sun and is believed to be the site of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom in the third century.

While “one hopes it doesn’t happen too soon,” the most important task of a Catholic cardinal is to elect a new pope, Cardinal O’Brien said. “It’s a weighty responsibility and always in the back of one’s mind.”

Before the consistory, he said, he had “three quiet days” to pray and reflect, which was important because the details involved in getting red robes, planning pilgrimages and gatherings with friends “can get in the way, clouding and distorting the whole thing.”

Cardinal O’Brien said the ceremony and the pope’s remarks underlined that becoming a cardinal “is not a reward, it brings on greater responsibilities — something the pope experiences every day” in his ministry to the universal church.

When the cardinal knelt before the pope, he said, “I thanked him; I said I’d serve him completely with my whole heart.”

Cardinal Dolan said that when he knelt before the pope, the pope thanked him again for his presentation to the College of Cardinals. “I said thank you for this, I’m the one who is grateful,” he said.

“The Gospel and the homily were very sobering,” he said, because they recalled the words of Jesus that “we’re not in it for the prestige, we’re not in it for the honor, we’re not in it for the glory. We’re in it to serve.”

Cardinal Dolan said he was reading the Gospel story of the devil tempting Christ and said to himself, “Dolan, you’ve got temptations galore. I’ve always had them and now I’ve got one more — to let this go to my head literally. And you can’t because it’s all about humility, and it’s all about service and love and being close to God and his people.”

The cardinal said another eye-opening moment was sitting next to Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong during the consistory and listening to him at the Feb. 17 cardinals’ meeting talk about the struggles of being a Christian in China. Several of the cardinals in the room have experienced oppression or persecution “and they know what this red means,” he said, referring to his robes, reminders of the call to serve even to the point of giving one’s life.

He also told reporters that he has no choice but to be himself.

“The Italians say you make gnocchi with the dough you’ve got. Lord knows I’ve got a lot of dough,” Cardinal Dolan said, holding his stomach, “so you just keep at it.”

Cardinal Dolan’s titular church in Rome is Our Lady of Guadalupe, a church consecrated in 1932. Unlike Cardinal O’Brien’s church, Our Lady of Guadalupe was open when he visited. And the priest told Cardinal Dolan about the leaky roof, the cracked walls and the broken heater.

“I said, ‘Look, I could have stayed home for that,’” he said.


Contributing to this story was Francis X. Rocca in Rome.