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Thousands Come To Honor O’Connor

May 8, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Cardinal John O’Connor’s life was celebrated at a funeral Mass today marked by pageantry, prayer and an outpouring of love for the man who served the archdiocese’s 2.4 million Catholics for 16 years.

A massive funeral procession of 800, including priests, 120 bishops and 15 cardinals, wound its way through the great bronze doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where an estimated 3,500 invited mourners including President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had gathered.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy remembered O’Connor as a priest who reached out to all. After her husband was killed in a Long Island Rail Road shooting, McCarthy said she received a letter from the cardinal, telling her the tragedy would take her on a different path. She went on to run for Congress and lobby for more stringent gun controls.

``That’s what made him a great man,″ McCarthy said as she entered the cathedral. ``He always reached out to ordinary people. It didn’t matter what religion you were. He was truly a shepherd to all of us.″

Across the street from the cathedral, hundreds of people weathered 91-degree heat to listen to the service over loudspeakers. A Red Cross truck nearby passed out water.

Other dignitaries who attended included Vice President Al Gore, former President George Bush, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

O’Connor’s closed coffin, covered in a white linen cloth, sat in the center aisle at the front of the majestic church. On top lay the cardinal’s personal crucifix and a book of the Gospel.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state, carried O’Connor’s staff in the procession. He also presided at the ceremony, which according to Catholic guidelines focuses on celebrating O’Connor’s new life in heaven.

O’Connor, 80, died Wednesday of brain cancer. After the service, O’Connor’s casket was to be taken down a narrow staircase to a crypt beneath St. Patrick’s altar, where all previous archbishops of New York are buried.

His coffin will be placed near that of Pierre Toussaint, a 19th-century Haitian whose cause for sainthood was supported by O’Connor. That portion of the ceremony will be private, with only O’Connor’s relatives and a small group of church officials present.

O’Connor helped plan his funeral, choosing many of the songs and prayers. The music included ``Ave Maria,″ sung by Irish tenor Frank Patterson and ``Lift High the Cross,″ the hymn sung when O’Connor was installed as head of the New York Archdiocese, which stretches 4,700 square miles.

President Clinton before leaving for the service praised O’Connor for his work as a chaplain in the armed services and then as the leader of the New York archdiocese.

``I think he set a very large role in the life of the church, and even when he was controversial and when he disagreed with me, I liked the fact that he was outspoken and he stood up for what he believed in,″ Clinton said.

Gore, speaking after the annual Associated Press meeting today, called O’Connor a friend and said he was supportive during his wife, Tipper’s, campaign to include parental advisories on albums.

Throughout the weekend, tens of thousands of mourners attended Masses and the public viewing to say good-bye to O’Connor, who once said he hoped his epitaph would simply read: ``He was a good priest.″

``It was important for me to be here. I wanted to pray for him and let him know that he was very kind, good to the poor people, the Spanish people,″ Yolanda O. Velez said this morning after walking through the cathedral with other mourners.

Among the many bishops attending the service was Bishop Edward Michael Egan, 68, of Bridgeport, Conn., who is said to be a leading contender to replace O’Connor.

A relative of Egan’s, Raymond Egan, told today’s Daily News that Egan has already been appointed to the post. ``He asked us not to say anything because O’Connor was so very, very sick,″ he said. Egan could not be reached for comment by the newspaper.

Bishop Henry Mansell, 62, of Buffalo, N.Y., and Bishop Edwin O’Brien, 60, the military archbishop, also have been mentioned as possible successors.

During his years at the helm of the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic pulpit, O’Connor placed himself at the center of some of the country’s most heated debates, angering many with his staunch support of the Catholic church’s positions on abortion and homosexuality even as he charmed many critics with his warm wit.

``He’ll be greatly missed,″ said Leo Gualtieri of Queens, standing on the steps of the cathedral. ``We hope the next cardinal will follow in his footsteps.″

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On the Net:

Archdiocese of New York: http://www.ny-archdiocese.org

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