ROME –– As a reminder that the early popes were elected by the pastors of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI — like his predecessors — assigns each new cardinal to serve as honorary pastor of one of the city’s churches.

cardinal-dolan-massCardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York embraces a woman as he arrives to celebrate Mass at his titular church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rome Oct. 14. Cardinal Dolan formally took possession of the church during the Mass. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)On Oct. 14, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who became a cardinal in February, took formal possession of his titular church in characteristically ebullient style, literally embracing as many of his new flock as he could, and punctuating the observances with his trademark humor.

“Thank you for your patience with my Italian,” the cardinal told a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 in the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I’m afraid that I speak Italian like a child. But before God we are all children, and God understands everyone.”

The parishioners responded in the same spirit, with frequent laughter and applause.

“We saw a joy, a gladness, and a beautiful way of relating that strikes us as Franciscan, not only Christian,” said Franciscan Sister Amalia Coluccia, mother general of one of the 10 religious communities affiliated with the parish. “He is very close to the people, very joyous. He made a beautiful impression.”

Cardinal Dolan arrived on time for the 11:30 a.m. Mass, but spent a quarter of an hour greeting people in the square in front of the church, then walking informally up the aisle, with frequent stops to put an arm around someone’s shoulder, before he entered the sacristy to put on his vestments.

He then made a second entrance, to the accompaniment of the parish choir and a brass quartet, in a procession with more than a dozen concelebrants, including Archbishops Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., and Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, and Bishop Brian Dunn of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Italian military police officers, in dress uniform with plumed two-cornered hats, stood at attention on either side of the altar during the Mass.

The pastor, Msgr. Franco Mammoli, presented the cardinal with a framed picture of the church’s patron saint, which the cardinal kissed and held up for all to see, noting that the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The cardinal recalled the various roles he has filled in his ecclesiastical career, including seminary rector and archbishop.

“But until today, I have never been a pastor,” he said. “Now I am, if only an honorary one, and I am so happy.”

Cardinal Dolan told the congregation that it was an honor to take possession of his titular church, but that, “in reality, with this warm welcome, you have taken possession of my heart.”

Acknowledging a group of sisters who care for retired priests of the Diocese of Rome, the cardinal joked that his new status would make him eligible for their services in a decade’s time.

The cardinal noted that “most cardinals have historic churches as their titular church,” but said that he preferred an “active, normal, alive parish.” He called Our Lady of Guadalupe, located about 4.5 miles northwest of the Vatican in the middle class neighborhood of Monte Mario, a “wonderful, dynamic community of faith.”

Parishioner Cathy Zappia, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., described it as a “parish for the people,” with active concern for poverty and social problems, and said that Cardinal Dolan would fit in well.

“When he spoke today he was speaking in a normal voice, not like a cardinal,” she said. “He gives energy.”

Editor’s Note: A video report on Cardinal Dolan’s Mass is available at