Thursday, February 16, 2012

For the New Evangelization, Benedict Picks His "Star" -- For Cardinal Dolan, The Red Hat Comes With a "Bowling Ball"

Seeing the shot above, one can almost hear that now-famous Midwestern voice saying, "Allright, everybody...."

For Timothy Michael Dolan, this weekend caps a meteoric rise of the kind only he could make look natural.

To use just one example, before the 62 year-old prelate, never have the terms "Archbishop of New York" and "President of the American Bishops" been able to exist in the same sentence, unless historians were discussing the dual legitimacy which Francis Spellman lusted, and even John O'Connor earnestly sought, yet neither would ever know.

Of course, not even two years after his appointment to the place the Vatican sees as the "Capital of the World," for Dolan, the towering unprecedented just so happened. And much as the result is anything but an academic matter these days, odds are even the great John Tracy Ellis would have been amazed to find his last student not simply observing the next page of the American Catholic journey but, in many ways, writing it.

From his seminary and grad-school classmates to his students at the Pontifical North American College, coworkers at the Washington Nunciature, friends from St Louis and Milwaukee, even those who vividly remember his major-media debut -- doing EWTN's commentary for the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver -- tomorrow's Consistory merely realizes a consensus on Dolan's fate that has circulated for decades. As tends to happen in his case, however, even the Gotham prelate's reception of the Red Hat -- on its own, normally the culmination of a churchman's journey -- has a little special something added on....

Or, in this case, perhaps not so little: a New York-sized induction to global Catholicism's top rank is more like it.

* * *
As the College of Cardinals gathers this morning for its usual pre-Consistory day of prayer and discussion, it awaits a Dolan star turn of a degree that makes even the new cardinal's successful corralling of NBC's Today show for a day at the Vatican last June pale in comparison... and arguably a Roman high-wire at least as daunting as the toughest test in American media -- the 60 Minutes interview, which he cleared last March.

Yet more than any others, it was likely those two moments that paved the way for this.

At the Pope's choosing, the cardinals' study day (over which Benedict will preside) is dedicated to the New Evangelization, arguably his most emphatic priority in the Western church. And in a half-hour Italian talk followed by questions from himself and the floor, the pontiff has tasked Tim Dolan with making the case for it. (SVILUPPO: Fulltext of Dolan's talk.)

To fully understand the significance of the keynote assignment, it bears recalling that, until now, presentations in these sessions have been given exclusively by the seniormost chiefs of the Roman Curia -- names like Sodano, Levada, Re, Ca├▒izares and Castrill├│n -- on key matters ranging from the church's response to clergy sex-abuse and Catholic-Muslim relations in the Middle East, to what would become Summorum Pontificum and Benedict's respective efforts toward full communion with Anglican groups and the traditionalist Society of St Pius X.

To be sure, Benedict already has an office dedicated to the reproposal of faith in the West -- the first Vatican dicastery to be established in a quarter-century -- which the Pope launched in 2009. Yet while his Curia's top hand on the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, is slated to take a second speaking-slot later in today's session, the pontiff's selection of Dolan as Poster Prelate for his signature push serves as a staggering sign of Roman acclaim for his performance in a town that, to employ a B16 term, is often viewed in Vatican circles as the global seat of the "dictatorship of relativism."

At the same time, that's an image today's lead-off hitter has already aimed to refute.

"I don't like that caricature that New York is some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah," the cardinal-designate told reporters yesterday after leading a Mass for his 1,000-some pilgrims. "New York seems to have an innate interest and respect for religion and I'm going to bring that up."

With the gathering being held behind closed doors in the Vatican's Synod Hall, the texts of today's main addresses are normally not released afterward. This time, though, something seems to say we'll at least have a pretty good idea of what ensues.

If nothing else, once his turn under the Aula lights wraps up, Dolan will be free of a pressure surrounding the talk which, earlier this week, he characterized as "a bowling ball on [his] head."

* * *
Were one to assess the record that launched New York's eighth cardinal into both St Patrick's Cathedral and a key Vatican podium, it's easy to presume that Dolan's continent-long clipreel goes as much a ways toward explaining the story.

Still, even for everything it does show, the footage is only indicative of two qualities that don't just shine in the camera lights, but stand as the golden thread of his 36 years of priesthood: the easily relatable, ever-happy, sense of the human and, above all, an almost unparalleled personal touch that, behind the scenes, has possibly been felt by millions along the way.

Far from the flashbulbs and policy fights lies what might be the most important and personal constant in the rising cardinal's world: the lists Dolan compiles of people he's heard about, and often doesn't know -- parents with a sick kid, somebody who's lost a loved one; parishioners, friends, or even mere acquaintances, experiencing some or another rough patch.

Always being added to, it makes for an extensive group. What matters most, though, is the result -- if he's got a phone number, he'll call each. Where there's no number, a handwritten card or note is quickly sent. Either way, the message is always the same: to check in and see how somebody's doing, to send prayers and see if there's anything he can do.

In other words, perhaps the most powerful thing the cardinal-archbishop of New York does is little more than simply being a priest from Ballwin, Missouri. And if there's a key for the church's top leadership to succeed at the New Evangelization, well, that might just be it.

* * *
As the result of said approach is being beamed wall-to-wall in the nation's biggest TV market this week, here, a round-up of the reputedly tough, often merciless New York media's coverage of the Big Apple's cardinal-designate.

From CBS' Channel 2....

NBC's Channel 4....

ABC's Channel 7....

The independent Channel 11 spends time trailing Dolan's "two Moms"....

...and from the New York Daily News, the cardinal-to-be on how he celebrates Daily Mass:

Lastly, yesterday saw one big mystery surrounding this Consistory finally put to bed.

As every prior archbishop of New York had died in office until Dolan's predecessor, each of the city's last four prelates had been given the Basilica of Saints John and Paul -- the mother-house of the Passionists on the Coelian Hill -- as their Roman church.

Originally the titular of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, the wartime pontiff assigned the church to one of his closest allies, Francis Spellman, on his 1946 elevation, and it's remained New York's ever since. Yet given Cardinal Edward Egan's unprecedented retirement from the seat in St Patrick's, a new title would have to be found for his successor.

Ergo, in a notable nod to a Gotham archdiocese -- and, indeed, a Stateside church -- whose next chapter is increasingly more Latino than Anglo, Cardinal Dolan will be entrusted with Rome's national parish for the city's Mexican expats: Our Lady of Guadalupe in Monte Mario, a largely immigrant neighborhood.

In a way, though, perhaps today's speaking gig contributed a touch to the choice: per the Popes of recent years, Guadalupe has been given the title "Star of the New Evangelization." And after this week, it seems plausible to say that, here below, New York's cardinal has been tapped to share it.