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Thousands Mourn Death Of Cardinal O’Connor In Mass

By Hanna Rosin
THE WASHINGTON POST -- NEW YORK

Cardinal John O’Connor was remembered Monday much as he lived, with scores of politicians and high-ranking bishops paying homage and thousands of devoted parishioners packing St. Patrick’s Cathedral to bury the nation’s most prominent Catholic leader.

No one could remember a Mass in American Catholic history that gathered together a more impressive array of church leaders. Among the 3,000 mourners were all eight of the remaining U.S. cardinals and seven more from around the world, about 300 bishops and a sea of priests in white vestments who made up a funeral procession so long it took 45 minutes to file in.

For the first time, the pope sent his second-in-command, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to preside over the funeral service of a cardinal.

The event was by invitation only, so tens of thousands were left outside the cathedral’s bronze doors. Starting early Monday morning, mourners lined up 10 deep behind police barricades on Fifth Avenue, listening to the service on loudspeakers, trading stories of their beloved spiritual leader and sharing water bottles in the 90-degree heat.

In his homily, Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, did not list all the qualities that made O’Connor famous in the secular world: his amazing ability to simultaneously infuriate and charm New York, and his pugnacious crusade against abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women in a city that flaunts its tolerance.

The funeral’s most dramatic moment came when Law recalled O’Connor’s greatest legacy, a reminder that the church must always be “unambiguously pro-life.” The church erupted into loud, sustained applause. Pew by pew the mourners stood up. TV cameras then lingered on President and Hillary Clinton, the last ones left sitting. Just before the applause died down they too took to their feet, both wearing the same inscrutable expression.