VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York introduced his mother, Shirley, to Pope Benedict XVI before a crowd of thousands on Monday, as a week of celebrations surrounding the Vatican’s elevation of 22 new cardinals drew to an end.
Each new cardinal was invited to present two guests to the pope at the final event with him — an audience in a hangar-sized reception hall flanking St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Dolan chose his 84-year-old mother, clutching her elbow as they mounted the hall’s white marble steps, and Vincenza Mustaciuolo, the mother of the powerful chancellor of the New York Archdiocese, Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo.
There were other special honors to those close to Cardinal Dolan. On Sunday, at a celebratory Mass with the pope, two of his nieces, Shannon, 21, who had survived cancer as a child, and Erin, 34, whom he had chosen because she is pregnant, walked down the aisle of St. Peter’s to present the communion gifts. His brother-in-law, Fred Williams, who has cancer, received communion from the pope.
“With all the high emotions of the past weekend, I don’t think I teared up until I saw them go up to the Holy Father,” Cardinal Dolan said. “That drove it all home.”
But as Cardinal Dolan prepares to return to New York, looming challenges await — ones to which he says he is looking forward to returning.
Cardinal Dolan has been leading a charge by the Catholic bishops of the United States against a White House mandate that would require some religious institutions, like Catholic hospitals, to provide health coverage for contraception, calling it a question of religious freedom.
It is a stance that has made him a hero of many of the hundreds of pilgrims traveling with him, like Dennis Crilly, 69, from Somers, N.Y. “Dolan is going to be a voice in the wilderness crying out on moral issues,” he said. “He knows the moral true north and is not afraid to say it.”
But Cardinal Dolan, in an interview on Monday, said that he and other bishops “have been scrupulous in trying to remain a bit above the fray” of partisan politics and instead planned to wield influence through speaking out on issues important to the church, like abortion and marriage.
Even the most loyal Catholics, he said, “cherish the fact that we are American and that our bishops do not interfere graphically in partisanship.” But beyond that, he said, that kind of approach “doesn’t work.”
“We bishops are pretty realistic to know that sometimes one of the best things we can do for a candidate whom we may not particularly like is to dramatically support his or her opponent,” he said.
Closer to home, he laid out four practical challenges in the archdiocese of New York that he wants to focus on. They are: more effective outreach to immigrants, particularly Latinos, to encourage them to return to Catholic schools; a renewed focus on Catholic Charities, which is running low on food after a recent food drive; a clearer pastoral message on marriage, because so many Catholics nationally are not marrying and because many are divorced; and the start of a $160 million capital campaign to fix St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“This just isn’t some face-lift; we literally get two or three buckets of stones every day that have fallen,” he said of the building. “We are talking about safety, security, a new roof, leaks, those precious stain glass windows that are rattling.”
On a personal level, Cardinal Dolan said he planned to return to his diet, which has been in little evidence here. His new cardinal’s ring is so tight that at a news conference on Sunday, he couldn’t take it off. With the start of Lent on Wednesday, he said, “It will be no more pasta; it’s going to be a lot of celery sticks, celery sticks without any salt.”
And while he was just being himself, he said, when he bounded up the steps of the altar on Saturday to receive his red hat, his new position has also caused him to reflect about when to exhibit his now well-known exuberance.
On Sunday, at the Mass, he walked down the aisle with his hands clasped, like his fellow cardinals.
“Maybe I need to learn from them,” he said. “I looked around and said maybe I need to learn a sense of awe and reverence and a bit more reservation.”
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 20, 2012
A previous version of this post misstated the day of a news conference as Monday.