The Archbishop of New York took possession of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on October 14, leaving behind him in his Roman parish a sense of joy and goodwill.
“Qui è come a New York” (“It’s like New York here”) said Cardinal Timothy Dolan on October 14, the day he took possession of his titular church in Rome. His boundless warmth, joy and openness conquered the people’s hearts. Smiles mingled with tears as the cardinal personally greeted as many as possible, especially children and the handicapped.
Cardinal Dolan was there to take possession of his titular church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Roman church assigned to him by Pope Benedict XVI this past February. For this ceremony the cardinal made use of his visit to Rome for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. “Finalmente sono qui e mi sento a casa” (“I’m finally here and I feel at home”) was his comment upon arrival. Although the weather forecast had been gloomy, it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny Sunday. Fortunately, the cardinal managed to get there without being fined—that day had been set aside by the city of Rome as a car-free Sunday!
The Roman parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe is located in the Piazza della Nostra Signora di Guadalupe. Just as elsewhere in Rome and in other Italian cities, the piazza, or square, is the heart of the neighborhood. Many immigrants live in the area; the building was originally a chapel for an order of Mexican nuns. Today there is a humble Mexican-style church with a red-tiled roof. Above the church’s door is a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe with an inscription in Italian: “Io sono la vostra Madre” (“I am your Mother”).
The event had a solemn character. Two policemen in dress uniform stood guard at the church’s entrance as the cardinal arrived. The church was decorated with American, Vatican and Italian flags. The liturgical ceremony was carried out under the direction of an American master of ceremonies.
Dolan did not enter the church immediately, but first mingled with the people gathered in the square, welcoming them and exchanging short but warm, friendly greetings in Italian. “Che folla! Ciao a tutti! Grazie per la vostra presenza. Che piacere vedervi! Buona domenica!” (“What a crowd! Hello, everyone! Thank you for coming. Nice to see you! Have a good Sunday!”) As he made his rounds, he took a small baby in his arms. Before entering the church he also stopped to welcome various priests.
The Mass of taking possession of one’s titular parish is a special one with special ceremonies. At the door, the cardinal was welcomed by the parish priest carrying a crucifix.
The cardinal kissed the crucifix and sprinkled holy water, blessing the gathered crowd. He did so purposefully and slowly, joking in Italian that “you have to move slowly for the press” (in other words, for the cameras). Warm applause filled the church as Cardinal Dolan entered. He took his time walking up the aisle, shaking hands with many people, including the sick.
Before the Mass, the cardinal prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament. This is the second element in the rite of taking possession of a titular church. After a short period of silent prayer, the archbishop of New York said to the crowd with a laugh, “Non andate via” (“Don’t leave yet!”).
The Mass began with a solemn procession accompanied by the singing of the parish choir. Two policemen walked behind Dolan. Next, the papal bulls nominating Dolan as a cardinal and assigning this titular church to him were read aloud in Latin and in Italian. The archbishop of New York joked that it was not necessary to read the text in Italian, because his parishioners understood Latin perfectly.
The parish priest, in his address welcoming the new honorary pastor, noted that kissing the cross is a deeply symbolic gesture within the rite. He added that two years ago, he visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and brought back an image of St. Patrick and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image is venerated there in a chapel close to the main altar. This image, he said, in a certain way extends the New York cathedral’s Guadalupe chapel to the archbishop’s new titular church in Rome. Cardinal Dolan was presented with a gift of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which he kissed as he received it from the pastor’s hands.
The archbishop expressed to the parishioners his great joy at finally having an honorary parish, since in his many years of priesthood he has never been a parish priest.
“Thank you also for your patience with my Italian. I’m afraid I speak like a little child, but before God, we are all children. God understands us all,” he added.
In his short homily, given in Italian, Dolan spoke about the Virgin Mary who is venerated as the Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom), saying that she is a model for us of God’s wisdom. He prayed that she would teach us the truth just as she taught her Son, Jesus Christ. At the end, he added, “Spero di venire spesso a voi. Voi venite a trovarmi a New York!” (“I hope to be able to come here often. Come visit me in New York!”)
At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Dolan left the church the same way he had entered, greeting various people as he walked down the aisle. “We saw a joy, a gladness, and a beautiful way of relating… He is very close to the people, very joyous. He made a beautiful impression,” said Sr. Amalia Coluccia, a Franciscan nun in attendance.
The nuns who founded the church offered him an antique book containing the story of the parish and how it was built, beginning with the laying of its cornerstone.
The cardinal who formerly had titular possession of this church was Archbishop Miguel Dario Miranda y Gomez, primate of Mexico. The tradition of having a titular church in Rome is very ancient. It reminds the cardinals that they are incorporated into the Roman clergy as a sign of their special, close bonds with the Successor of Peter, who is also the archbishop of Rome.
Anna Artymiak is a Polish journalist who lives and works in Rome.