Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Ferraiolo Has Landed: Prelates on Parade

Each year, the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day plays host to Philadelphia's St. Patrick's Day Parade, the US' second oldest. The day kicks off with a Mass at the cavernous St. Patrick's Church near the urban oasis of Rittenhouse Square, after which the pipers, steppers and Mummers wend their way through the heart of the city. It's quite lovely -- and better still is the after-party at Fado.

Anyways, these last two years the parade has earned itself a new name: "Grandmother Brigid Day." It's the one moment of the year when my archbishop -- the sopra-Romano di Roma, despite having been born in Los Angeles -- outs himself as being three-quarters Irish. This day's nickname is taken from Rigali's maternal grandmother, who was born in County Roscommon and lived in Boston.

People long familiar with Justin Rigali have looked at me like I'm from Mars when I tell them about the Irish bit. Not that it's a state secret or anything, but it's not something the Boss usually wears on his sleeve -- everything about him is more buccatini than corned beef.

And that's why we love him.

It happens every year, though -- the Pharaoh reveals his true ethnic makeup on television smack-dab in the middle of the parade in an interview from the reviewing stand (abito piano with black double-cape today, for the curious).

Hoping not to miss the ritual, I sped out to pick up some puree and paste (we make our own spaghetti sauce here at Loggia House) to come home and find, like clockwork, a reporter say to Justin Rigali, "So, Cardinal, I just found out you're three-quarters Irish....."

It doesn't take much to be a prophet in this business. And we hear he never said anything of the kind while in St. Louis.

As St. Paddy's Day is a Catholic holiday -- like I said the other day, it's not Saturnalia -- the attendance of the local bishop is somewhat expected at the big parade, especially in the East Coast cities where the church was built by the sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle who emigrated over and gave Catholicism a clout it had never known nor expected on these shores.

So, of course, the biggest of these is in the heart of the diaspora, New York -- whose cathedral was built by a son of Philadelphia, the legendary Irishman John Hughes, who became New York's first archbishop in 1850 after building Philadelphia's then-pro-cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. In the Apple, a giganta-Mass is held on the morning of the 17th at St. Pat's at which the city's elite shows up, possibly the biggest annual moment of church-state symbiosis the city knows. And then, of course, the parade down Fifth.

The best St. Paddy's prelate story comes from up there, five years ago. Grazie Dio, it was televised to enshrine the moment for all eternity.

So Ed(ward) Egan was marking his first patronal feast and parade as, to use his title, "the Archbishop of the Capital of the World." (Which will soon be made to endure a bloodbath of parish closings.) To boot, our favorite onetime NAC organist had just returned from Rome and his triumphal elevation to the College of Cardinals in the near-record time of seven months following his installation as archbishop.

A WNBC reporter approached the new Cardinal to ask his thoughts on the day. Suffice it to say, I wish I still had the video of it.

Egan started going off about how marvelous it all was: the people, the liturgy, St. Patrick himself, everything. But then he completely went off topic, asking the reporter, "Do you see this?"

He wasn't fingering at the crowd, but at his scarlet watered-silk cape, the ferraiolo (seen on His Em. in the photo at top). Keeping his hand on it, he said, "You know, this just arrived this morning from Rome, so I was able to wear it today for St. Patrick's Day."

He was so happy that cape came in, it was priceless -- he beamed just as much as he did when Renee Fleming sang the Exultate at his installation. He talked about it for about 20 seconds. I distinctly remember the beaming remark, "So the top o' the mornin', and the rest of the day, to everyone."

Further proof that it doesn't take much -- just $3,000 or so of red moire -- to keep a prince of the church happy.