- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

NEW YORK The high and the mighty from the worlds of religion and politics sat in the Gothic splendor of St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday paying tribute to Cardinal John O'Connor, a man who time and again said he wanted to be remembered as a simple priest.

Among the 3,500 people at the funeral Mass were President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, a candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York; Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper; former President George Bush and his son, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush; and eight U.S. senators. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is expected to oppose the first lady in the Senate race, sat in the second row, behind the Clintons.

While mourners and eulogists sounded themes of praise and remembrance at the majestic service, it was the words of the deceased cardinal's best friend, Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, that caught the distinguished audience by surprise and inspired it to robust applause and then a standing ovation that lasted three minutes and nine seconds.

"He preached most powerfully by his example, the necessity of seeing in every human being from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, and every moment in between, particularly in the poor, in the sick, in the forgotten the image of a God to be loved and to be served. What a great legacy he has left us in this constant reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life," Cardinal Law said.

The president and Mrs. Clinton, who support abortion rights, began whispering to each other and refrained from applause, as did the Gores, who also support abortion rights. Mr. Giuliani, who supports abortion rights as well, began to applaud weakly toward the end of the demonstration.

The funeral Mass, marked by pomp and pageantry, climaxed five days of mourning for the 80-year-old cardinal, who died Wednesday evening in his residence around the corner from the soaring spires of the church at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 51st Street. He had been suffering from the effects of brain cancer for the past nine months. A white shroud covered his wooden coffin, upon which rested a Bible open to the pages of the Gospel.

Thousands lined the streets around the cathedral listening to the service on special loudspeakers. The Mass was by invitation only. Incense smoke curled above the devout crowd, and television lights bathed a sea of bishops wearing the traditional white mitre, the headdress signifying their office.

The two-hour service began with a splendid procession of seminarians, deacons, 120 bishops, 15 cardinals, more than 900 priests and an array of Eastern rite prelates. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state and second only to the pope in authority, presided over the Mass.

Applause rang out again as eight pall bearers carried the coffin containing the cardinal's body from the main altar to the crypt below. The body of the cardinal, who was ordained in 1945, was interred in a crypt alongside Pierre Toussaint, a former Haitian priest who worked among the poor and was vigorously promoted for sainthood by Cardinal O'Connor.

It is widely believed but not yet confirmed that Bishop Edward M. Egan of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., will be named to replace the cardinal, possibly as early as today.

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