Sunlight streams onto pilgrims in St. Peter's Basilica after a consistory led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican Feb. 18. The pope created 22 new cardinals from 13 countries -- including two from the United States and one from Canada. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Cold feet, warm hugs: Pilgrims do what it takes to see new cardinals

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • February 19, 2012

VATICAN CITY - More than 10,000 friends, family and supporters bore chilly morning temperatures, pressing crowds and long lines to get a chance to see Pope Benedict XVI place a red hat on their favorite cardinal. Only a few thousands got to see it happen in person.

“We arrived at the main gate at 6 a.m. just like good little pilgrims, in the freezing cold,” said Annette Zaralli Parsons from Richmond, Va.

But then they opened a different gate to let people into St. Peter’s Basilica for the Feb. 18 consistory to create 22 new cardinals from 13 countries “and so the people who had gotten in line later got in. So you should make your headline read: ‘Pilgrims freeze, miss consistory,’” she told Catholic News Service.

Parsons was one of hundreds of people who came to see Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and former archbishop of Baltimore.

“I was one of the first people he inducted into the order” in October to help oversee Catholic schools in the Holy Land “so there’s a special connection.”

“He was there for my big moment and I’d like to be there for his,” she said.

Some 560 members of the order attended as well as hundreds more from Baltimore and other cities.

Pat O’Hanlon of New Rochelle, N.Y., Cardinal O’Brien’s first cousin, said the two of them grew up together as kids.

“He was always a good kid, good in school, good to his parents and two brothers who predeceased him. He was an altar boy. We, on the other hand, hung out the windows,” she said, alluding to a more mischievous past.

She said her mother always knew “he was going to go places” because of his personality and hard work.

Father Gerard Travers, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Highland Mills near West Point, N.Y., was a classmate of Cardinal O’Brien’s at New York’s St. Joseph’s Seminary in the 1960s.

“It’s so exciting seeing someone I knew from seminary days receiving such a great honor. He’s so humble.”

When the cardinal found out his priest friend wasn’t able to get into St. Peter’s Basilica for the consistory, the cardinal consoled him by saying, “‘Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you came,’” said Father Travers.

Even the lucky few who did manage to get into the basilica didn’t necessarily have a good view, like Gloria Schwarz of St. Louis.

She came to see her city’s native son, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, get his red hat, but got stuck “about three-quarters of the way back so we couldn’t see everything.”

Schwarz said she knew the cardinal through his aunt and would visit him in Rome when he was rector of the Pontifical North American College. “He’d have us for dinner then Mass in his private apartment. He’d also tell us good restaurants to go to and then go with us to eat,” she said.

“He’s definitely an asset to the Catholic Church. He’s not afraid to come out and say what he thinks even if it’s not all good. We need that,” she said.

Clad in shorts and a coat, and looking a bit tired, two and a half-year-old Michael Downey was christened “Dolan youngest pilgrim” by his father, Jeff Downey of New York. One of his oldest pilgrims was Sister Mary Bosco Daly, the cardinal’s second-grade teacher.

Downey, whose wife Vicki is a lector at the N.Y. cathedral, noted the huge media presence that followed the cardinal to Rome, saying even though it’s a big story for a New York archbishop to be made a cardinal “it’s an even bigger story because it’s him.”

“People are really taking to him. He’s fitting in great in New York and he’s a genuine man of the people,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan drew huge crowds to greet him at receptions at the North American College and the Vatican’s Paul VI hall. Many stood in line hours to get a chance to take a photo and shake his hand, which often turned into a big bear hug.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve seen with the church, but in a good way,” said Lino Rulli, “The Catholic Guy” talk show host on the Catholic Channel — a joint effort of Sirius Satellite Radio and the Archdiocese of New York.

He rooted the cardinal’s popularity in “an approachability no one has seen in this church in a lifetime.”

“Go watch the tape, but I think the Pope smiled his biggest smile of the day when Dolan walked up to him” for his red hat, he said.

When the cardinal’s assistant signaled that it was time to get ready to go to the next event, there were still scores of pilgrims patiently waiting their turn. Cardinal Dolan just launched himself into the crowd for group hugs and photos, slowly inching toward the exit. He couldn’t tear himself away from well-wishers for another 20 minutes despite the assistant’s insistence.

Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto drew hundreds of pilgrims from all over Canada.

His sisters Catherine and Patricia Collins said they were thrilled, as was their hometown of Guelph, Ontario.

Catherine said “he is a very prayerful individual, even from a young age.” Their father would take him to Holy Hour and he was drawn to the priesthood after being impressed by the example of their parish priest, she said.

Though they plan on calling him “Your eminence” in public, “he’ll still be ‘T’ to us” in private, Patricia said.

Brother Samuel Chow of Toronto was mingling with a large crowd from Hong Kong and Macau. Pilgrims were waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags and flanking new Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.

Brother Chow, who is studying at the Legionaries of Christ’s Mater Ecclesiae in Rome, said he hopes he is sent to be a priest in China because there is a huge need for pastors.

“I’m brushing up on my Chinese,” said the seminarian, whose parents are from Hong Kong.

He, like other pilgrims from Hong Kong, said he was very hopeful the situation for Catholics in China will improve.

“If we have the Eucharist, we have hope because we’re sure that God doesn’t abandon us,” he said.

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