Cardinal O'Brien Is Ready to Serve With His 'Whole Heart'

New cardinal reflects on his new role.

Cardinal Edwin O'Brien waves before the start of a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 20.
Cardinal Edwin O'Brien waves before the start of a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 20. (photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi )

VATICAN CITY (EWTN NEWS/CNA)—Cardinal Edwin O’Brien says he will faithfully serve Pope Benedict XVI with his “whole heart.” The emeritus archbishop of Baltimore made his promise as he knelt to receive his red biretta and cardinal’s ring from the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 18.

“I said to the Pope, ‘I want to serve you as best I can, with my whole heart, and that with the grace that God gives me I will seek to serve you with my whole heart,’” he told journalists at a press conference moments after the consistory.

“So I want the grace and I want those prayers that will prompt that grace from the good Lord, I hope.”

Cardinal O’Brien said he was “humbled and overwhelmed” by the ceremony, which he described as “very impressive. Very simple, I think, and very solemn.”

The 72-year-old New Yorker is one of 22 new cardinals that were created this weekend by Pope Benedict. Their role is to assist and advise the Pope in the governance of the Church and, when the current Pope passes away, to elect the next pontiff.

“One hopes that it won’t happen too soon,” said Cardinal O’Brien, who pointed out that he “may precede the Pope to that gate of heaven.” If he is alive when it comes time for a new pope, the election “will certainly be a weighty responsibility” that will “always be in the back of one’s mind.”

Pope Benedict appointed Cardinal O’Brien as the pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem in August 2011. The order supports the Church in the Holy Land, particularly the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, through prayer and good works. The new job requires Cardinal O’Brien to permanently move to Rome, but he will not do that until his successor as archbishop of Baltimore is installed, he said.

He told the media he is particularly looking forward to the upcoming Year of Faith that will begin October 2012. Cardinal O’Brien believes it will “be celebrated on every level of the Church” and will involve “not just prayer, but study and good works.”

“It is going to be a renewal of faith, and only God knows what graces he has in store for us in celebrating that year; but I am convinced it will be a most enriching Year of Faith for us.”

Part of the vision for that year was outlined Feb. 17 by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. During a day of prayer and reflection at the Vatican for all cardinal-designates, he outlined a “creative strategy of evangelization” to counter secularism and bring people to Jesus.

“Gee, I think it was a home run,” said Cardinal O’Brien when he was asked about the speech. “The Pope certainly referenced it several times in his wrap-up talk yesterday.”

So is the Archbishop of New York now a contender for Pope? “His mother thinks so,” said Cardinal O’Brien, causing an outbreak of laughter from the press. “He certainly is going to be given many responsibilities as a cardinal, and from what he said yesterday, it was certainly very profound, great insights. Beyond that? Who knows,” he said.

Cardinal O’Brien believes that a return to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which began 50 years ago, will play a key part in the New Evangelization.

“A lot of people speak of the ‘Spirit of the Council’ without having read the Council, and I think it is important to get back to it and see what the Council did say, because there’s some wonderful thoughts there, very applicable to today, very contemporary.”

As a “parish priest of Rome,” Cardinal O’Brien has been entrusted with a titular church in Rome; in his case, St. Sebastian on the city’s Palatine Hill.

“I don’t know too much about it. We tried to get in the other day, but it was locked,” he said, again engendering much laughter. “It must be very old and very historic, so we’ll look into that early next week.”

More immediately, he celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 19 with his fellow cardinals and Pope Benedict. On Feb. 20 he had an audience with the Pope, along with the many family members who traveled to Rome for this weekend’s celebrations.

“It’s just so exciting to be here and a great honor for the family,” said his cousin Rory Rosencrans, who flew in from Kissimmee, Fla. She and many other family members were sporting cardinal red-wool hats.

“He’s been a very disciplined man throughout his life, from the days he was a paratrooper jumping out of planes in the war in Vietnam,” she said. “He is very genial. We’ve attended several family reunions he’s hosted, and he’s a very humble man.”

Pope Benedict XVI told the family and friends of the Church’s newest batch of cardinals that this weekend’s consistory was “an opportunity to reflect upon the universal mission of the Church in the history of man.”

“In human affairs, which are often agitated and confused, the Church is always alive and present, bringing Christ: light and hope for all humankind,” he told more than 4,000 family members, friends and pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall on Feb. 20.

“Remaining united to the Church and to the message of salvation she bears means anchoring ourselves in truth, reinforcing a sense of true values, remaining serene, whatever happens,” the Pope said.

In total, the Pope created 22 new cardinals this weekend. It’s estimated his diocese alone brought more than 1,000 pilgrims to Rome.

“With great joy I meet you, relatives and friends of the newly created cardinals, just days after the solemn celebration of the consistory in which these, your beloved pastors, were called to the College of Cardinals,” said the Pope.

He said the occasion gave him the opportunity to extend his “cordial greetings more directly and more intimately” to all, especially to the new cardinals. He hoped that the family and friends present would “gather with affection” around their cardinals, so as to feel “ever closer to their hearts and their apostolic worries.”

“May you listen with lively hope to their words as fathers and teachers. Be one with them and each other in faith and charity, to be more fervent and courageous witnesses of Christ.”

Turning to the French-speaking pilgrims who accompanied the 91-year-old religious historian Cardinal Julien Ries from Belgium, the Pope said that “our society, which experiences moments of uncertainty and doubt, has need of Christ’s clarity.”

Pope Benedict hoped that each Christian would “bear witness with faith and courage” and that the imminent period of Lent will “favor a return towards God.”

He finished his remarks by exhorting the pilgrims “always to remain united to your pastors and to the new cardinals, in order to be in communion with the Church,” as “unity in the Church is a divine gift which must be defended and developed.”

The audience ended with the Pope entrusting the pilgrims and his “dear brother cardinals” to “protection of the Mother of God and of the apostles Peter and Paul.”