Dolan welcomed as next NY archbishop

April 15, 2009 10:09:10 AM PDT
Archbishop-designate Timothy Dolan on Tuesday urged New Yorkers to give up fear and embrace faith in the first of two services installing him as the city's Roman Catholic leader - the most prominent post in the American church. In his sermon, the former Milwaukee archbishop said Jesus does not force open people's hearts, but waits for them to accept him.

He built the homily around a central moment in the ceremony, when he knocked on the doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral before entering.

"That's the ultimate question," Dolan said to the 1,500 well-wishers in the pews. "Will we open up in faith, hope and love to the God who gently knocks on the door of our being, asking Him to live with us? Or will fear, self-absorption, and darkness keep us locked up in ourselves?"

"The church is at her best, faithful to her mission," he said, "when she invites people to open the door and ask Jesus in."

Dolan, 59, succeeds New York Cardinal Edward Egan, 77, who is retiring after nine years.

The New York archdiocese is the nation's second-largest after Los Angeles, yet is the most visible face of American Catholicism, and has been led by prelates who were giants inside and outside the church.

Among them is Cardinal Francis Spellman, who was so influential in New York politics that his residence was dubbed "the powerhouse." Cardinal John O'Connor was the most forceful U.S. Catholic voice in the public debates of his era, especially on abortion.

At the start of Tuesday night's prayer service, Dolan grinned broadly and waved to well-wishers outside the cathedral. The ceremony calls for him to knock on St. Patrick's door nine consecutive times. He broke up the knocks into two sets instead - six, then three more at the prompting of an aide.

Dolan, a burly man, said, "Thanks for opening the door wide enough even for me to get in." When he sat in the archbishop's chair for the first time, which was adorned with his episcopal coat of arms, he quipped, "It's very comfortable."

A St. Louis native and the oldest of five children, Dolan is known for putting a friendly face on Catholic orthodoxy. He holds a doctorate from The Catholic University of America and is former rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, considered the West Point for U.S. priests. He has said that he will challenge the idea that the church is unenlightened because it opposes gay marriage and abortion.

During the ceremony, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI naming Dolan to the job. Dolan said in his sermon that he was anxious about his new job, which he will formally accept during a Mass on Wednesday in the cathedral.

Across the street from the cathedral, a small group held a 5-foot-wide by 20-foot long canvas banner they had made to welcome Dolan.

The yellow, red and brown acrylic-painted banner included a drawing of the Good Shepherd and a quote in Latin: "Where Peter is, there is the Church. Where the Church is, there is no death, but eternal life."

Donis Santana, 64, of West New York, N.J., a retired teacher who emigrated from Cuba in 1962, said she did not know much about the Irish-American Dolan, but said "He's the bishop of New York, he represents Peter, he represents the church, he's not Irish, he's Christ."

Jose Francisco, 16, of the South Bronx, said he didn't mind standing in the rain for more than 3 hours to welcome Dolan.

"It's a good thing to be here, to show him our support," Francisco said. "We put our religion before video games, before everything."

The archdiocese covers a region with 2.5 million parishioners in about 400 churches and an annual budget estimated to be at least half a billion dollars.

The vast Catholic service network in the region includes 10 colleges and universities, hundreds of schools and aid agencies, and nine hospitals that treat about a million people annually.

Among the challenges he faces are drawing more men to the priesthood; serving the growing number of New York Latinos; strengthening the finances of Catholic schools and parishes; and leading the church's opposition to gay marriage and abortion in liberal-leaning New York.


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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