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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXV, No. 4
Christmastide 2010

Prayer, Rain, and Gelato --
A Pilgimage to Rome for the Consistory of Cardinals

The Haehnel Family with Cardinal Raymond Burke, at the reception

by Cynthia Haehnel

Amidst a torrential downpour outside of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on November 20, 2010, 24 men from 13 countries were elevated to the College of Cardinals. Among the 24 men elevated were two from the United States of America, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, DC and Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Holy See’s highest tribunal, and former Archbishop of St. Louis. I had the honor of being in attendance with my 13-year-old son, Timothy, and 24-year-old daughter, Susanne, along with several hundred others from the Midwest.

Our family waited in line during the rain to enter St. Peter’s that day. Thousands were turned away, as the basilica was filled to overflowing. We took our seats hours before the start of the proceedings while observing people from the Congo dressed in their native attire with pictures of the Blessed Mother sewn into the material of their clothing. They were awaiting the ceremonies as eagerly as we were, and although we could not speak to each other, our greetings and smiles united us in our one presence.

As the rain continued to pour and the thunder crashed, the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, dressed in their distinctive capes, stood guard next to us as the cardinals-elect, then Pope Benedict XVI, slowly made their way down the long aisle toward the altar. Although my son and I had attended the papal Mass that was held in Yankee Stadium in New York when his holiness came to the States, nothing could prepare us for the wonders of seeing Pope Benedict at St. Peter’s.

As the music and service continued, all eyes turned to Pope Benedict as he began to place a red silk biretta on the head of each cardinal-elect who came forward. Thousands of excited pilgrims from each country cheered as their respective prelate approached the pope to receive the red biretta as a sign of his office. The biretta, the pope reminded the new cardinals, “signifies that you must be ready to act with strength, to the point of shedding blood, to increase the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of the holy Roman Church”.

During the ceremony, each new cardinal professed his loyalty to the Church and embraced the other cardinals. Watching the consistory from the pews of St. Peter’s, amongst the cheers and prayers of people from all across the world, filled our eyes with tears and our hearts with hope.

We left St. Peter’s Basilica and walked up the damp hill to the Pontifical North American College, where we attended a reception for the two new American cardinals. In the center courtyard of the college are orange trees planted for each of the 50 states. The trees were loaded with brightly colored fruit. (My son Tim said he wondered if the oranges were especially bright for the new cardinals.) My children and I were touched by the humility and kindness shown by Cardinals Burke and Wuerl to all who went through the receiving line.

At the papal Mass the next day, each of the new cardinals was given his cardinalitial ring — a symbol of the bond he has with the Church and his fidelity to the Holy Father. We saw Cardinal Burke look down to examine his new ring — to the enthusiastic cheers of well-wishers.

This Mass was celebrated in Latin, the Church’s universal language, with the petitions read in English, German, French and Swahili. The Holy Father gave his homily, in which he reminded the cardinals once again that they must always remain united with Christ and the Church. As we listened to the pope we watched a ray of sunshine come through the stained glass windows of St. Peter’s where minutes before it had been dark. The day that began with rain ended with blue skies as the pope greeted all the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the noon Angelus and blessing.

On Monday, after a weekend of exploring ancient Rome, visiting the basilica of Saint John Lateran, praying and meditating on the sufferings of Jesus as we climbed the Holy Steps, we attended an important — but little noted — Mass of Thanksgiving. This Mass of the feast of the martyred virgin Saint Cecelia was celebrated by Cardinal Burke for a group of several hundred from Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the North American College. His first homily as a new cardinal was as forthright and powerful as those he made during his years as a diocesan bishop. No doubt, he will continue to be a clear voice in Rome as the years go by.

My children and I had the great privilege of seeing two Americans receive the “red hat” in Rome — the second home for all Catholics. We felt a sense of pride and emotion when we watched Cardinal Burke, one of our own from the middle of America, who has always stood for what was morally right whatever the cost, reach this pinnacle of his service to the Church.

Attending the consistory, exploring ancient Rome with my children, and, yes, even eating gelato outside the wonderful basilicas of Italy, gave me hope that our Lord will continue to bless our Church and our families into the next century.

Cynthia Haehnel is an attorney in private practice who lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with her husband, Fred, who is an attorney and a permanent deacon. The Haehnels have five children. She is a board member of Women for Faith & Family, a former member of the Public Policy Committee of the Missouri Catholic Conference, and has frequently lectured on pro-life issues.

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