Signs of the Times

New York Says Goodbye To Cardinal O’Connor

Thousands filled St. Patrick’s Cathedral for one service after another as New Yorkers said their final goodbyes to Cardinal John J. O’Connor. The 80-year-old cardinal, who died on May 3 after an eight-month battle with cancer, was archbishop of New York for 16 years. At his funeral, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, was chief celebrant, and Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston preached the homily.

Cardinal Law recalled that Cardinal O’Connor was known as an unremitting champion of human life and dignity, of workers and of peace. But most of all, he said, he was a priest who kept the Eucharist at the heart of his life and ministry, a man of profound and uncomplicated faith in a good and gracious God who has revealed himself in Christ Jesus. Two minutes of sustained applause greeted his mention of Cardinal O’Connor’s constant reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life.


In an earlier statement Cardinal Law summarized the late cardinal’s church career thus: There was a transparent consistency to his teaching, making it impossible to pigeonhole him as a conservative’ or liberal.’ No one in the history of the church in the United States has been more powerful in advocating the inviolable dignity of every human person.

Among the hundreds of church leaders and civil dignitaries at the funeral were President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, former President Bush, and the presidential contenders Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Hundreds of Catholic cardinals, bishops and representatives of other religious faiths took up places of honor for the Mass.

Before the funeral and final interment, Cardinal O’Connor’s body lay on view in the cathedral where a steady stream of mourners filed past the casket. They formed a line that stretched out the doors and at times filled the sidewalk on the south side of the cathedral, going back and forth along the entire block.

Born in Philadelphia on Jan. 15, 1920, John Joseph O’Connor was ordained a priest of that archdiocese in 1945. For the next seven years he taught high school and pursued advanced studies, earning master’s degrees in ethics and clinical psychology. He later earned a doctorate in political science. He became a Navy chaplain in 1952 and rose to the rank of admiral. From 1975 until his retirement from the military in 1979 he was the Navy’s chief of chaplains.

Pope John Paul II personally ordained him a bishop in 1979, making him an auxiliary bishop of the military vicariate. In 1983 he was appointed bishop of Scranton, Pa. He was named archbishop of New York in 1984 and became a cardinal the following year.

Nationally Cardinal O’Connor was noted for his work on the U.S. bishops’ 1983 peace pastoral, his vigorous pro-life work and opposition to abortion, his promotion of Catholic-Jewish relations, his efforts for peace in the Middle East and his defense of church teaching on homosexuality.

New Yorkers also saw the cardinal as their local bishop and pastora man who personally engaged in ministry to people with AIDS, who extended an open invitation to any woman considering an abortion to come to him for help, who went out into the community to ease racial tensions, who studied Spanish in order to serve the Hispanic community better.

Among those with him when he died in his residence were family members and a few close friends, including Cardinal Law and Cardinal William W. Baum.

Accolades poured in after the cardinal’s death. In an unusually personal comment, Pope John Paul II said, Through the years he has been of great support to me in the service of the universal church. Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, He was a champion of the poor, the immigrant, the sick and the unborn, and he spoke and acted on their behalf with eloquence, vigor and an extraordinary measure of wit. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, He was always stalwart in his support for the Jewish community and remained a tireless advocate for improving and expanding the Catholic-Jewish relationship.

Three Men Killed in Chiapas Ambush During New Bishop’s Visit

A two-day visit to indigenous communities in the Chiapas highlands brought the area’s new bishop close to the violence that has rocked the southern Mexican state since 1994. As Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de las Casas awoke on May 7 in Actealthe community where 45 indigenous women, children and men were killed in 1997three men were killed in an ambush on a road nearby. Bishop Arizmendi, installed as bishop of San Cristóbal on May 1, heard the news of the latest killings during a visit to the town of Chenalho several hours after they occurred. He called immediately for clarification of the incident by authorities, but said he did not believe it would damage a fragile reconciliation effort in Chenalho.

Continued Peaceful Protests over Vieques Promised

Church-sponsored civil disobedience on Vieques will continue as long as the U.S. Navy uses the inhabited island as a bombing range, said Puerto Rican Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio, S.J. We are assessing the situation with the people of Vieques. We will return to areas where we can do civil disobedience, he said after federal agents removed scores of protesters from Vieques. Bishop Corrada is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Caguas, which includes Vieques. The demonstrators removed on May 4 included 14 priests, 5 nuns, 5 seminarians, a permanent deacon and 15 lay people sponsored by the diocese, he added.

Vatican Official Investigates Ordination by Mexican Bishop

A Vatican official said he was investigating alleged liturgical irregularities carried out by the former head of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas at the ordination of more than 100 indigenous men as deacons in January. Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, told reporters in Mexico City he was heading the investigation of Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, who retired in March. News reports alleged that Bishop Ruiz had ordained women during the ceremony. But Bishop Ruiz’s successor, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, said Bishop Ruiz had blessed the deacons’ wives and had not carried out a laying on of hands as in an ordination.

Jesuits Welcome Correction of U.S. Report Alleging Terrorist Ties

The Jesuit order welcomed the U.S. Department of State’s prompt correction of a terrorism report that originally said Jesuit priests founded Colombia’s largest terrorist group. We are very grateful that the State Department reacted so quickly, said José de Vera, S.J., the Rome-based spokesman for the order worldwide. In a statement on May 5, the State Department said its annual terrorism report’s allegation that Jesuit priests founded Colombia’s National Liberation Army was absolutely false. We sincerely regret the error, the statement said. We offer our most sincere apologies to the Jesuit community and want to assure them that the Department of State had no intention of impugning the Society of Jesus or their pastoral work throughout the world.

Scholars Report Progress in Study of Vatican’s WW II Documents

Catholic and Jewish scholars reported substantial progress in examining published Vatican documents relating to World War II and the Holocaust. Collaborating as Catholic and Jewish scholars on a difficult and controversial subject, we are confident that our work will contribute to a deeper understanding of this painful subject, the scholars said in a statement on May 7 after a four-day meeting in London. The commission, established in October, includes scholars appointed by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and by the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation.

Pope Commemorates 20th-Century Christian Martyrs

Before the ruins of Rome’s Colosseum, a symbol of early Christian martyrdom, Pope John Paul II paid tribute to Christians who gave their lives for their faith in the 20th century. And there were many, the pope said on May 7 as he led an ecumenical prayer service honoring Christian victims of Nazism, communism, dictatorships, civil wars and religious intransigence. In preparation for the ceremony, the Vatican collected more than 12,000 names of witnesses to the faith from bishops’ conferences, religious orders and other Christian churches. More than two dozen leaders from 19 Christian churches joined Pope John Paul, reciting prayers and reading brief testimonies from a representative group of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants killed around the world. Although the story of murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was not among 16 chosen to represent Christian suffering around the world, he was the only person mentioned by name in the prayer for the 20th-century martyrs of the Americas.

Rector Says Fatima Shrine Briefly Owned Nazi Gold

The Marian shrine in Fatima, Portugal, briefly owned some gold bars bearing the Nazi insignia, but only 30 years after World War II ended, the rector of the shrine said. Father Luciano Guerra, the Fatima rector, said that in 1970 the shrine purchased gold as an investment and deposited it in a local bank. The bank, which has since failed, borrowed some of the shrine’s deposit and repaid the loan in 1976 with some bars that bore the mark of the Third Reich, Father Guerra said. Between 1982 and 1986, he said in a statement on May 2, the shrine sold a considerable quantity of its gold deposits to pay for construction projects. All the bars with Nazi markings were among those sold.

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