Inperson: Cardinal Edward EganJOHN DROGIN
You lived in Rome 23 years. What has it been like working so closely with Pope John Paul II, particularly when you worked on the new Code of Canon Law in the early 1980s?
A few days after being made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, the archbishop of New York spoke with Register correspondent John Drogin.
Drogin: In that moment during the consistory when the Pope gave you the red hat, what did you say to the Holy Father and what did he say to you?
Cardinal Egan: As you know, I lived here in Rome almost 23 years. And so I said what every good Italian would say. I said in Italian, "I thank you very much, Holy Father, for all of this wonderful recognition and this great honor." He smiled and shook my hand and I didn't have anything more to say because I didn't think it was the moment.
I believe that I know him well enough and he knows me well enough that it was a heart-to-heart conversation without words.
Drogin: You have been here 23 years. What has it been like working so closely with Pope John Paul II, particularly when you worked on the new Code of Canon Law in the early 1980s?
Cardinal Egan: Usually, these meeting were held from 8:30 in the morning until around noon. Sometimes we would go and have lunch with the Holy Father, sometimes we'd go home for lunch.
I can report that the Holy Father seems to have a very good appetite and enjoys having people at the table. It's very relaxed, very lovely. These lunches were unusual in many ways. I don't know if Pius XII, for example, who was the Pope when I was a seminarian, ever had anyone for lunch.
I have the pleasure of knowing this Holy Father reasonably well and, more importantly, he knows me. He knows what he's getting he knows he expects me to do a good job in New York.
Drogin: Any funny stories you can tell, or jokes the Holy Father has told you in the time you've know him?
You've been here in Rome a year and a half, so you know a good Roman never tells tales out of school. If there are any funny stories to be told, I would refer you to John Paul II and let him tell them.
Drogin: What is different about being a cardinal today than it was 20 years ago when you were in Rome?
Cardinal Egan: I would say that the challenges are the same today as they were back in the time of the Roman martyrs.
Are we going to speak Revelation clearly? Are we going to say exactly what has been said in the clearest language or are we going to try to nuance things away? Are we going to try to pretend two and two to be five on occasions?
I don't think that trying to change things or make them not sound as they really are has ever worked. I don't think it worked 2,000 years ago, 200 years ago or 20 years ago. So the challenge for any bishop in any age is to speak Revelation clearly and honestly. The Pope makes no apologies in his confidence and trust that what the Lord has revealed is powerful and salvific.
In addition to preaching the faith exactly as it is, I think the bishop has to be someone who gathers the people in prayer.
I define the Archdiocese of New York as 413 communities of faith assembled around 413 altars. That is an accurate definition, theologically and canonically. The duty of the bishop is to see to it that he, his priests, his deacons and his lay leadership gather those people with greater intensity, so that they can be holier in their own personal lives and so then go out and live lives of justice and compassion.
Drogin: In our own day, with so many new threats to life and holiness, that is more difficult than ever.
Cardinal Egan: We have a situation in the United States of American whereby we have something within the woman that gives rather strong indication that it's a human being. It has all sorts of strange things like a beating heart and toes and fingers. We allow the state to stand idly by when someone is killing it: I can't imagine anything more illiberal than that. If we don't defend the rights of a being who gives every indication of being human, what are we going to do?
Drogin: Turning to the Big Apple: New York City is called capital of the world. How do you deal with the "star" qualities of being archbishop there? This week, you've been mobbed by people and reporters. Do you ever just want to go into a pub and drink a beer with old friends and not be recognized?
Cardinal Egan: I'm not going to be able to go in anywhere and not be recognized that's all part of the duties of being made the Archbishop of New York. But I can honestly say that that none of this bothers me at all.
I love New York, I love the life of New York, and I'm very relaxed with the newspapers and the television and the rest of it. In fact, last night we had dinner with half of the people who came with us. Somebody said to me, "You seem so relaxed, you must be nervous inside?" I said, "No, to tell you the truth."
If you're going to live in New York and be in New York, you have to relax. I've enjoyed every minute of it and I expect to enjoy every minute of it in the days ahead.
Drogin: Does it make it more difficult to do your job, with so much press attention?
Cardinal Egan: You're now in journalism and you've heard it said by others I'm going to repeat it nevertheless: If St. Paul were here today, St. Paul would be talking to newspapers and to television and the radio, for better or for worse. And it's for much better than people like to admit.
They are the voices who make our message known, and so I do not hesitate at all to speak to NBC or CBS or ABC or The New York Times or The New York Post or Newsweek or Time or anyone else.
If they would like to hear what I have to say, I'm only too happy because what I have to say, I hope, is not what Edward Egan has in mind, it's what the Lord has revealed. I hope that I don't have any message of my own, and that my message would help the Lord, that it would always be what I believe the Church, as the mystical body of Jesus Christ and our Lord and Savior, has told me to go out and say.
So, I'm delivering a message for somebody else.
If I do find myself uncomfortable, would I rather go apart, as you said, to some pub and have a glass of beer? I like a glass of beer, but I'd be just as happy to do it with some reporters some people like yourself.
Drogin: You've particularly put an emphasis on vocations in your work in New York and Bridgeport, Conn., your former home.
Cardinal Egan: The first day I was here in Rome for this consistory I learned that there are 18 young men in formation to go on to the seminary next year from the Diocese of Bridgeport. This year they sent 12 to first theology.
Bridgeport has 368,000 Catholics, New York is about 2.5 million.
So, you see how much work we have to do in New York. But already, you would be surprised at how many young men have come to me and said they'd like to be priests in the archdiocese. And I'm beginning to work on the sisters as well.
So, stay tuned. If the Lord wants to give us a hand, maybe we'll have some good news for you in a couple of years.
John Drogin. "In Person: Cardinal Egan." National Catholic Register. (March, 2001).
Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
John Drogin works in Rome for Vatican Radio and Inside the Vatican magazine.
Copyright © 2001 National Catholic
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