VATICAN CITY — “Today is really ‘New York Day’ in Rome,” said Cardinal Edward Egan. “I suppose you could call it a triple-header.”

The archbishop emeritus of New York was responding to news that Pope Benedict XVI today had named two American archbishops as cardinals, both with close links to the archdiocese: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Bronx, N.Y.-born Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and former archbishop of, most recently, Baltimore and the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

They were among 22 prelates and leading clergymen who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals at a consistory in Rome on Feb. 18.

The Holy Father, who made the announcement during his Angelus address on the feast of the Epiphany, had moments earlier ordained Msgr. Charles Brown — another native New Yorker — titular archbishop of Aquileia. The new archbishop, one of only two to be ordained bishops by the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica this morning, had been an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1994, which included time working with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He now takes up his new position as the new apostolic nuncio to Ireland. 

In a statement responding to news of his elevation to cardinal, Archbishop Dolan said he was “honored, humbled and grateful,” but stressed the honor was “about an affirmation of love from the Pope to a celebrated archdiocese and community and a summons to its unworthy archbishop to serve Jesus, his Church universal, his vicar on earth, and his people better.”

“It’s as if Pope Benedict is putting the red hat on top of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty or on home plate at Yankee Stadium; or on the spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral or any of our other parish churches,” he told a press conference in New York Jan. 6. “This is the successor of St. Peter saying to the clergy, sisters, brothers, lay faithful of this archdiocese, and to all of our friends and neighbors of New York: Thank you! Keep up the good work! You are a leader, an inspiration, to the Church and to the world.”

Bringing Attention to the Holy Land

In comments to the Register, Cardinal-designate O’Brien, who was in Rome, said that as head of an organization that offers assistance to Christians in the Holy Land, he hoped the appointment would help “bring attention to the great work the Church is doing over there [in] education and health, not just among Catholics and Christians, but across the board.”

“I don’t think that’s nearly as appreciated as it should be,” he said.

He added that being named a cardinal was “something you never even hope to dream of” and that the honor “goes far beyond one person.” He recalled the many graces he has received over the years and paid tribute to “all kinds of noble, generous, self-sacrificing individuals” he has worked with in the past, including his predecessor as pro-grand master, Cardinal John Foley, whose work at increasing awareness of the situation in the Holy Land “was magnificent.”   

Cardinal Foley died Dec. 11 and was buried in his native Philadelphia.

Cardinals-designate Dolan and O’Brien have another important factor in common: They are both former rectors of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. “The seminarians are very happy about that; it reflects very well on the college,” Cardinal-designate O’Brien said. “It’s a full house at the moment, and there are very few seminaries in the world that can match not only numbers, but also the quality of students and faculty here. It’s extraordinary.”

2 Electors

Cardinal Egan spoke highly of all three New York Churchmen whom he has known for many years. Archbishop Brown is a “very noble and splendid young man, totally committed to his work and to his Church,” he said. Cardinal-designate Dolan has been “a great friend and is doing a fine job” as archbishop of New York, and Cardinal-designate O’Brien has lived “an extraordinary life of a priest,” for whom Cardinal Egan has the “highest esteem.”

As Cardinal Egan doesn’t turn 80 until April — the age limit at which cardinals can vote in a conclave — the Archdiocese of New York will have two cardinal-electors for a potential papal conclave for about a month and a half. But the archbishop emeritus doesn’t see this as a problem.

“To have [Cardinal-designate Dolan] wait however many years doesn’t make any sense,” he told the Register, and he recalled that he and Cardinal Avery Dulles were both cardinals living in the same archdiocese, although Cardinal Dulles was already above 80 when he was created cardinal. “New York is so big and so important, we’ve always needed two cardinals,” he joked. 

Curial Cardinals

In spite of the attention given to the New Yorkers, next month’s consistory will essentially be dedicated to the Roman Curia, with 10 of the 22 named today heading Vatican dicasteries. They include Archbishops Fernando Filoni, the Italian prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; Joao Braz de Aviz, the Brazilian prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Among archdioceses worldwide, Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto was named a cardinal today, as were Archbishops Dominik Duka of Prague, Rainer Woelki of Berlin (at 55 he becomes the youngest cardinal in the college), and John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.

The Pope also elevated to the dignity of cardinal a revered prelate and three clergymen noted for their distinguished service to the Church. These were His Beatitude Lucian Muresan, 80, a Romanian archbishop who suffered persecution under communism; Father Julien Ries, 91, a noted professor emeritus of history of religions at the Catholic University of Louvain; Augustinian Father Prospero Grech, 86, professor emeritus of various Roman universities and a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Jesuit Father Karl Becker, 83, professor emeritus of the Pontifical Gregorian University and also a CDF consultant.

Eighteen of the 22 newly cardinals named today will be able to vote in a conclave, bringing the total number of cardinal-electors to 125 — five more than the suggested limit set by Pope Paul VI. A large proportion of those named today — 16 in total — are Europeans, of whom seven are Italian, who still account for almost a quarter of the cardinal-electors (23.8%).

There was just one new cardinal from Latin America and none from Africa, bringing the proportion of European cardinal-electors to more than 50% in the College of Cardinals. 

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.