March 11, 2013
The Bishop of Rome
Overseeing Titular Churches in the Eternal City
Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s titular church, Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monte Mario.
The Holy Father has many titles, including Pope, servant of the servants of God, successor of St. Peter, Vicar of Christ, and bishop of Rome. The last title, bishop of Rome, was his first title in history and I would say theologically the most significant. It was also the title that Benedict XVI preferred to use for himself, and the ministry from which he was resigning.
Why is this title so important?
Rome was his primary responsibility, especially in a pre-frequent-flyer age, pre-rapid-fire communications, and pre-Internet world. It was also because through the 11th century the Pope was elected by the clergy of Rome. The electors were the bishops of seven dioceses in the suburbs of Rome, e.g. the town of Frascati (anyone else like Frascati white wine?), presbyters who oversaw several parishes in the city of Rome, and deacons who took care of the regions into which the city was divided, especially for charitable purposes.
That is why the cardinal electors who will vote for the next pope this week in the Sistine Chapel also had responsibilities this past Sunday in a church in Rome, called their “titular” church. In receiving this “title,” they are considered the clergy of Rome and hence able to vote for the bishop of Rome, the Pope. This is to say that, while Cardinal Wuerl is archbishop of Washington, he also has a titular church in Rome — Saint Peter’s in Chains, located on the Via Cavour — for which he has some oversight (obviously not day to day).
Cardinal Di Nardo, as cardinal archbishop of Galveston-Huston, has responsibility for the Church of Saint Mark right next to the Piazza Venezia. Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, has responsibility for the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the Monte Mario section of Rome, northeast of St. Peter’s.
|Cardinal Dolan is mobbed by reporters as he arrives at church.|
|Cardinal Dolan pauses for a moment behind Monsignor Irwin.|
This past week when they gathered in their general congregation meetings the cardinals agreed to celebrate Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Lent in their titular churches. I joined Cardinal Dolan for his Mass. The piazza outside the church was certainly half filled with reporters and photographers (maybe 200). I arrived earlier than the cardinal with Father Dave Dwyer, C.S.P., (my former student) host of the Busted Halo show (on the Catholic Channel each evening on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio).
The cardinal arrived in short order in a Vatican car (you know that because the license plate reads SCV — not SUV — meaning Vatican City State). He emerged to meet the pastor. On the other side was his brother, Peter Dolan, from St. Louis (spitting image!), and a papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor John Zayac from the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon who works at the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican.
After the initial meeting we went to the sacristy to vest. The Mass readings and prayers were exactly what all Catholics heard today all over the world, including the gospel of the prodigal son. Cardinal Dolan’s homily was as insightful, engaging, and pithy as always. The congregation today swelled to twice its normal size. But despite that, there was only one collection! (Any pastor I know would have taken up two!)
The faith of the people was electric. Cardinal Dolan relished his role as titular pastor. He asked the parishioners to pray for the College of Cardinals. They were obviously delighted that he was there.
It was good for me to be back in the parish after two months on my own in various churches in Italy. Afterward the cardinal, clergy, and other guests went to the rectory for a brief reception. The Cardinal split a beer with a staff member from the Busted Halo!
After meeting with the press for about a half hour, the cardinal left in his SCV car. I will see him tomorrow at the Mass in St. Peter’s to open the conclave, en route to elect the bishop of Rome.