Dolan was selected by Pope Benedict XVI himself to deliver the keynote address to the College of Cardinals.
Apologizing for his rusty Italian, Dolan peppered his remarks with his trademark good humor. He told the cardinals that evangelizing in today's world required its missionaries to live and spread the faith with love, joy - and "sorry to bring it up, but blood."
He noted how cardinals wear scarlet cassocks to symbolize their willingness to shed blood as martyrs for the faith and make a pledge during the consistory to die as martyrs, if necessary.
"Holy Father, can you omit the 'shedding of your blood' when you present me with the biretta?" Dolan asked the pope. "Of course not! We are but 'scarlet audio-visual aids' for all of our brothers and sisters also called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus."
While the subject matter was deadly serious, Dolan's delivery lightened the mood of the otherwise somber Vatican.
The Cardinals and the 22 Cardinals-to-be are gathered in Vatican City in what is designated as a day of reflection ahead of Saturday's consistory. The hope is that the group will prepare itself spiritually for the elevation ceremony.
In St. Peter's Square, the Dolan family entourage, about 50 of them, were easily spotted. Two of Dolan's four siblings talked to Eyewitness News reporter Joe Torres about how their brother is holding up.
"He seems very calm, very excited, very happy to have all of us here," sister Deb Williams said. "He seems great."
"He's been joking about the speech to family members, going 'I hope the pope doesn't ask me any questions. You know, what am I supposed to say?'" brother Bob Dolan said. "That's just him. He's putting on the façade that he's real nervous, but you know he's going to hit a home run."
Dolan also joked that the Vatican's tailors may have to let out his new red cassock after all the pasta he's been eating.
He also jokes that he's reluctant to wear the red socks that complete his new wardrobe, lest he be considered a Red Sox fan.
Vatican analyst Father John Wauck says cardinals "wear red as a symbol of their willingness to shed their blood" for the church.
He says the cardinals serve as advisors to the pope and will someday vote on who should be the next pope.
Back in New York City, workers at St. Patrick's Cathedral were are preparing for the cardinal-designate.
When Dolan returns, there will be a new coat of arms at the landmark cathedral.
The bishop's throne, located on the altar, is being changed from green to red, the cardinal's colors. The carpet surrounding it also will be red.
Stay with 7online and Eyewitness News for complete coverage of Archbishop Dolan's elevation to Cardinal. Joe Torres will be reporting from Rome all week, and you can watch the elevation ceremony live, beginning at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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