Egan celebrates Mass after illness

April 9, 2009 8:29:14 PM PDT
Cardinal Edward Egan celebrated a Holy Thursday Mass five days after being hospitalized with a stomach virus, saying he was determined to lead believers through his final Holy Week as head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. The 77-year-old Egan said at a news conference that he hadn't fully recovered, but "to miss Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday would have been kind of a heavy cross to bear."

After spending Palm Sunday in a hospital, Egan had feared he might also miss the rest of the most sacred period of the Christian calendar - and the last Masses he will say at St. Patrick's Cathedral before retiring next week. He was released from the hospital Tuesday.

By Thursday, he said he was "feeling pretty good - not as well as I should, but much better than I thought it would be."

He referred briefly to his illness during the 90-minute Mass in the packed cathedral, noting the sympathy he had received. His presence cheered Catholics who had worried about him while following news reports about his hospitalization.

"(Reports) said he might not be able to be here for Holy Week, so we're happy that he was able to do that," Lex LaGuardia of Manhattan said after leaving the Holy Thursday Mass. It commemorates the Last Supper, the meal the faithful believe Jesus Christ shared with his apostles before his crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter.

Egan said he also anticipated leading Easter Mass and the cathedral's three-hour Good Friday service on the Seven Last Words of Christ.

The cardinal went to a hospital Saturday with stomach pain.

While treating him, doctors recommended a pacemaker for a heart condition.

Egan said Thursday that it had been diagnosed years ago, but physicians had previously told him it needed no immediate attention. He said he planned to consult more doctors about his options after retiring.

His successor, Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, is to be installed Wednesday. He will take over the most important U.S. post in the Roman Catholic Church, serving 2.5 million Catholics in much of New York City and its northern suburbs.

Egan's nine-year tenure spanned the trauma of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - after which he led as many as three funeral Masses a day - and the glory of a visit from Pope Benedict XVI last year. In recent years, Egan has contended with bitterness over plans to close parishes where the archdiocese said services were poorly attended.

Reflecting at Thursday's news conference, he pointed to the papal visit, the archdiocese's financial stability and such statistics as some 120,000 children in its programs that teach Catholic doctrine.

"What I wanted to do is done," he said.