Saturday, February 18, 2012

For the Redbirds, A Whirlwind Day

The formal ritual of elevation might now be in the books, but the rest of this Consistory Day in Rome traditionally takes the form of a goose-chase. Or, here, Redbird-chase.

You get the idea.

Once the new cardinals are set loose from St Peter's, the freshly-elevated porporati tend to be swarmed by well-wishers before fanning out across the Vatican and the wider city for time with their respective delegations. Keeping the longtime custom for Stateside red-hats, for example, Cardinals Edwin O'Brien and Timothy Dolan are spending the afternoon receiving their guests at the Pontifical North American College -- where, in a notable subtext to this intake, the latter succeeded the former as rector in 1994.

With the duo's elevations, the number of NAC chiefs who ended up in scarlet has doubled in a day to four, in the footsteps of Boston's first cardinal, William O'Connell (rector from 1895-1901), who was elevated in 1911, and Washington's James Hickey (1969-74), a member of the Consistory Class of 1988. (Speaking of history, in the shot above, O'Brien -- the 15th holder of John Carroll's chair -- is wearing the pectoral cross of his Baltimore predecessor, the Stateside church's founding bishop.)

From their personal events, a rushed lunch is shoehorned into the schedule before the new red-hats are whisked back to the Vatican, where -- in another reflection of the College's close tie to Peter's successor -- the doors of the Apostolic Palace are flung open to the public for a general reception from 4.30 to 6.30 in the evening.

With the cardinals stationed around the building's various state rooms, the traditional open-house for "courtesy visits" is the only time anyone can enter the Bronze Doors and ascend the Scala Regia, so the crowd tends to feature a decent number of art-gazing natives among the buzzing pilgrims.

Given the size of this year's class, however, only the new cardinals of the Roman Curia -- and not even all of them -- have been given the coveted slots in the Pope's House; the rest of the bunch are slated to be on the other side of St Peter's in the modern, now solar-powered Paul VI Audience Hall. While Dolan and Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins will be set up in the main space where Benedict XVI holds his Wednesday gatherings and other large events, O'Brien's been given a spot in the building's atrium. Per custom, each cardinal hands out prayer-cards to commemorate his elevation, and by each station stands a small table intended to display the greeter's new red biretta.

From there, the groups break up for dinner and, in most cases, an early night. While the Pope's concelebrated Mass with his new appointees begins at 9.30 Vatican time tomorrow morning in St Peter's, for the third of three indoor consistories in a row, reports have already emerged that at least hundreds of pilgrims -- some of whom were said to be queued up before dawn to get into this morning's ceremony -- were shut out of the basilica and forced to watch the event on the large video-screens set up in the square.

In prior instances of this, the excluded (including members of some new cardinals' families) all had tickets, but the distributed number of passes ostensibly exceeded the roughly 10,000-seat capacity of the world's second-largest church. Before B16 moved his elevations inside at his second intake in 2007, they had been held in the Piazza from 1998, taking place in the 7,000-seat Audience Hall prior to that.

Before the advent of mass pilgrimages accompanying the designates, consistories historically occurred in the Hall of Blessings above the narthex of St Peter's, or in the Sistine Chapel.

The formal events for the new crop of the College wrap up on Monday, when the Pope receives the cardinals and their groups for one mass audience. More than most Consistory Weeks, Rome is expected to clear out quickly afterward with Ash Wednesday, and the residential prelates' task to lead Lent's opening rites at home, all of hours away.

Not much later, the new class' added workload will begin to evidence itself. Within the coming weeks, the new cardinals younger than 80 will receive their memberships to several dicasteries of the Roman Curia, their dockets individually determined by the pontiff to reflect which offices can benefit most from their particular strengths and experiences. And for most cardinals, the new role tends to bring a fairly sizable uptick both in mail and invitations, all of which has to be balanced with a "day job" that's often fairly intense on its own.

All that said, there is one last Roman ritual awaiting each member of the class -- "taking possession" of his assigned titular church. The simple parish Mass launching a new cardinal's ministry as honorary pastor of his assignment now usually takes place within a year.

PHOTOS: Getty, Reuters