At a Neighborhood Church in Rome, Dolan Delivers a Star Turn

ROME — There was no mistaking the fact that a dignitary was coming to Mass in Monte Mario on Sunday.

Scores of parishioners lined the small driveway in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, holding babies and iPhones. A huge crush of reporters, photographers and videographers with boom mikes surrounded the church entrance. Neighbors and shoppers began to drift in, wondering what all the hubbub was about; at one point, children scaled a chain-link playground fence to get a better glimpse.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York always cuts a wide path — he is a big man with a big job and a big personality. But on Sunday, just two days before the College of Cardinals is to begin the conclave at which it will select a new pope, his visit to a neighborhood church in Rome had all the makings of a celebrity visit, and the archbishop of New York did not disappoint.

“Where are my St. Louis people?” he asked about Cardinals fans. “How’s your Uncle Ralph?” he said to one visitor. And to the WCBS-AM reporter he exclaimed: “Rich Lamb! You are like a Roman monument! To see Rich Lamb in Rome!”

He kissed babies, shook hands and hugged and greeted worshipers in heavily accented but ready Italian. He worked the pews like a rope line, moving so slowly through the church that he arrived at the altar several minutes after the rest of the procession.

He offered no clues about whom he would support as the next pope, how long he thought the selection process might take or how he felt about being mentioned as a possible candidate. “Boy, it’s good to see you all!” he said when asked a probing question.

He did say that he was “anxious to get started’’ and that although he thought the field of candidates was unsettled when he arrived in Rome nearly a week ago, he now felt “serenity” as well as “trust and faith.” Citing what he said was an Italian aphorism — “You can only make gnocchi with the dough you got’’ — he said, “We want to be good dough for the Holy Spirit to work through.’’

And as he has repeatedly done before, he said he thought it would be great to install a new pope on March 19, when Roman Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph.

His most explicit reference to the conclave was a joke about the meals that the cardinals will be served once they move into the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican residence where they will be housed until from the start of the conclave until a new pope is chosen. Thanking the worshipers for giving him a large woven basket filled with Italian biscuits, cookies, tuna and chickpeas, he said: “Maybe I can take a small candy bar into the conclave. I hear that the food is not good.”

The cardinal’s visit to the church was one of many made by cardinals to churches throughout Rome on Sunday as they invited Catholics to pray for the church and the election of a new pope. Most cardinals are assigned churches in Rome, which they visit periodically and assist with fund-raising. Cardinal Dolan’s is Our Lady of Guadalupe, a small and relatively modest parish church in a middle class neighborhood on a hill about 15 minutes from the center of Rome.

At the start of the Mass, the priest was unable to find a match to light candles and walked through the packed pews asking if anyone had a lighter.

But Cardinal Dolan was greeted like royalty. The “Prince of Denmark’s March” accompanied his entrance, and an artist in the parish, Italo Celli, crafted and gave the cardinal a bronze bas-relief of a mother cradling a baby.

“You are also an elector of the next Holy Father, and we are sure we are in good hands,’’ said Msgr. Franco Mammoli, the church’s pastor. “You have all the gifts needed, and the Holy Spirit to guide you.”

Cardinal Dolan, as is his wont, beamed throughout the Mass — at the worshipers as they greeted him, at the choir as he sang, at an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe when her name was mentioned, at the heavens as he prayed. In his five-minute homily, delivered in Italian, he said that Our Lady of Guadalupe was his second favorite, after St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but, in an exaggerated stage whisper, he asked the worshipers not to share that fact with New Yorkers or the news media.

Parishioners were alternately mystified by the fuss and impressed by Cardinal Dolan’s charm.

Sabrina Filippi, 55, a shopkeeper, had seen Cardinal Dolan on his previous visit, in October, and welcomed him back to the church on Sunday.

“He is just very pleasant and funny man, very easygoing, not intimidating at all, very personable,’’ she said. “I really wish he could be pope. Among the contenders, he is the closest to John Paul II; he is enthralling, a real leader. ‘’

Jean-Marie Manè, 37, from Senegal, said he, too, had been struck by the cardinal’s warmth. As he walked by, the cardinal patted Mr. Manè’s 2-year-old son and called him “my new friend from Mass.”

“He is always smiling,’’ Mr. Manè said. “When he came in October, he took a picture with my son. He was spreading the joy to be Christian all around.’’

Alessia Capodanno, a 39-year-old housewife who lives in the neighborhood and was taking her 9-year-old daughter to Mass, was impressed simply to have a high-ranking church official in the neighborhood.

“We had no idea that he was coming; it’s an honor that he is coming to see us,’’ she said. “What’s his name, by the way?”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.

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Vestiges of Harlem’s Gay Nightlife Give Way to Wreckers

A block in Harlem that once resonated to the sounds of some of America’s top musicians has, in recent weeks, heard nothing more than the mournful rasp of hydraulic shears and a hydraulic excavator clawing away the remains of a century-old entertainment complex.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

A year and a half from now, if all goes according to plan, the block of Seventh Avenue between West 131st and West 132nd Street will have gained an eight-story building with 115 new rental apartments, one-fifth of them for lower-income families; a new church and fellowship hall; a new garage and new stores.

But it will also have lost a rich cache of social and cultural history: the former Lafayette Theater and an abutting structure that long ago housed Connie’s Inn and the Ubangi Club; venues where Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and Gladys Bentley appeared.

Gladys Bentley?

She was a renowned singer in the ’20s and ’30s who cut her hair short, dressed in tailcoats and appeared at the Ubangi Club with a troupe of young men. “If these boys were put into dresses they would be indistinguishable from the chorines,” the weekly newspaper, New York Age, told its readers. And from uptown to downtown, the patrons simply adored them.

“Gladys Bentley’s lesbianism, tuxedo and wicked double-entendre rewrites of popular tunes were definitely part of the draw, along with her backup chorus line of flamboyant black gay men,” George Chauncey, the chairman of Yale’s history department, said. “It had a more egalitarian and welcoming flavor, in both racial and sexual terms, than the segregated Cotton Club ever did.”

James F. Wilson, executive director of the CUNY Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, said the Ubangi Club, the Lafayette and Connie’s were at the epicenter of the cultural and musical scene during the Harlem Renaissance. “The Ubangi Club, in particular, epitomized the raucous energy and devil-may-care attitudes of the musicians, singers, and patrons who went there,” he said. “What a relief this club must have offered from the Depression and daily frustrations outside.”

The Lafayette opened in 1912, flanked symmetrically by matching neo-Classical pavilions. Connie’s Inn, which had a segregated admissions policy, was a tenant in the south pavilion, followed by the Ubangi Club. The whole blockfront was acquired in 1951 by the Williams Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which used the theater as its sanctuary.

The north pavilion was torn down many years ago. The south pavilion was renamed the Bell Center, after Bishop William Yancey Bell, who founded the church in 1919. To the dismay of preservationists, the church stripped the theater of its elaborate original facade in 1990 and replaced it with something more ecclesiastical but far plainer.

When the Rev. Dr. Julius C. Clay was called from Oklahoma City to the pastorate of Williams in 2006, he expected to be a caretaker of a once-vibrant congregation that had fallen on hard times. Just how hard became clear almost immediately. The property went into foreclosure.

From that desperate moment came a deal with the BRP Development Corporation, which acquired the site to develop a 166,000-square-foot building. Designed by Meltzer Mandl Architects, it is to be finished in the winter of 2014. Financing for the $46 million project has involved the Housing Partnership Development Corporation and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

The building, to be called the Lafayette, will include 19,000 square feet for the church, which will have its own entrance on Seventh Avenue, with a large cross to underscore its religious identity. The sanctuary will have a balcony and seat about 700 worshipers, Dr. Clay said. There will also be classrooms, offices and a fellowship hall. The pastor said the church was getting new space worth $5 million.

“Free of debt,” Dr. Clay said. “That’s the real miracle of the whole thing. I thank God for that.”

For now, the Williams congregation is worshiping at the James Varick Community Center, 151 West 136th Street. “I’m getting a lot of buzz,” Dr. Clay said. “A lot of people are coming up to me on the street and other places, in phone calls and e-mails. People are telling me that once it’s finished, they’re coming. It looks like we’re going to grow as a result of this.”

Still, preservationists like Michael Henry Adams, who has been fighting for Harlem’s architectural patrimony for decades, are dismayed about losing another historical treasure. He faulted the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but a spokeswoman for the agency said it had never received a request for a formal evaluation of the building’s eligibility.

“It sounds really cliché to say,” Dr. Wilson said, “but when I used to take students to Harlem’s historical sites, I would point to the facade of the old Lafayette and the Ubangi structure, and say, ‘If only these walls could talk.’ Sadly, I guess we’ll never have the chance to hear what they’d have to say.”

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