ROME (CNS) – An ordinary parish in a middle-class Rome neighborhood became a center of pre-conclave excitement March 10 when its honorary pastor, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, came to celebrate Sunday Mass.
Cardinal Dolan had taken formal possession of his titular church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, only five months earlier. Now he was back, two days before the start of voting in a papal election that some observers have said could end by making him the first American pope.
Entering at the end of a procession of two dozen priests and altar servers, the cardinal took five minutes to make his way up the aisle of the small church, stopping to greet individual parishioners as a trumpeter and organist played the baroque “Prince of Denmark’s March,” a standard of wedding ceremonies.
“What a big crowd,” Cardinal Dolan remarked during his homily, looking out at the standing-room-only congregation of more than 300, which included a number of journalists. “Let’s take two collections this morning, okay?”
He asked the parishioners to keep the “secret” that, “after St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, this is my favorite church.”
“It is as a pastor of a parish in Rome, even if only honorary, that I am here to elect a new Bishop of Rome, a new pope,” he said. “We cardinals feel the support of the prayers of God’s people all over the world. This also makes us rejoice.”
Having smiled broadly through much of the liturgy, the cardinal assumed a solemn expression toward the end, when the trumpeter played a mournful solo resembling “Taps.” Msgr. Franco Mammoli, the church’s pastor, explained that the interlude was supposed to be a moment of prayer to the Holy Spirit for the cardinals who would be voting for the next pope.
Cardinal Dolan closed on a note of levity, however, joking that he might take some candies with him into the conclave, “because I’ve heard that the food isn’t good.”
He also said he hoped to visit the parish again before leaving Rome, since he would be staying until the installation Mass of the new pope. At that point, Msgr. Mammoli moved aside the microphone and told the cardinal something inaudible to the rest of the congregation.
Cardinal Dolan “seems like someone who knows how to speak to people, who knows how to stimulate each person’s soul,” said one parishioner, Germano Tatafiore, 52. “He touches you. He has a face, a voice, a manner that touch you.”
Italians would welcome the American as pope, Tatafiore said, among other reasons because he seems like someone who could end reported mismanagement and corruption inside the Vatican.
“He is a very sweet person, very open,” said another parishioner, Lina Napolitano. “Easygoing, very simple, even though he is a very smart person.”
After changing out of his vestments, the cardinal stepped to a window of the rectory to acknowledge a group of 30 American pilgrims led by the Sirius Radio host Lino Rulli. The pilgrims greeted him with shouts of “Pope Dolan!”
The cardinal stopped before leaving to speak briefly with several dozen journalists, largely from New York, whom he told that the cardinals’ pre-conclave meetings had left him with a feeing of “immense serenity.”
“The last week has been just filled with apostolic fraternity and good prayer and solid conversation, a real sense of trust and confidence,” he said. “A week ago we would have said, ‘wow, we’ve got a lot of work to do,’ but now you see a sense of resignation and trust and faith.”