Archbishop Dolan vs. the Times, Round 3 and counting

I wrote the other day about media coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church and claims from some — including Archbishop Dolan — that the coverage has an anti-Catholic slant.

His main concern, as he wrote on his blog, is that the media focus on abuse in the Catholic world but largely ignore abuse in the larger society.

Dolan was not done.

image_xlimage_2010_03_R1433_DOLAN_POPE_3292010Yesterday, after Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan defended Pope Benedict XVI from media reports connecting the pontiff to sex-abuse scandals in Germany and the U.S. The Vatican has also been quite unhappy with some of the reports.

Dolan, as he tends to do, used strong, unambiguous words: “And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

…now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus…

That’s the New York Times he’s talking about there, folks.

According to the AP, Dolan got a 20-second standing ovation from the packed cathedral.

You get the feeling this isn’t over. Dolan has shown that he is quite comfortable charging anti-Catholicism in the media — especially the Times — and he does not take kindly to attacks on his Holy Father.

Here are his remarks in full:

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

****

“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — — yet hopefully uplifting — — Sunday Mass?

“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”

A great loss for the Archdiocese of NY

I’m getting lots of emails and calls about the death Saturday of William F. Harrington, a prominent Westchester lawyer for half a century who was one of the central Catholic philanthropists in the Archdiocese of New York.

Harrington, who was known as B.J., was a distinguished fellow who was admired by many.

One fan wrote to me: “I know of no other who gave of himself so unselfishly to
others as B.J. did — a truly great man.”

tjndc5-5b5f5q5i9tu1iq65pezi_layoutI first talked to Harrington in 1997 for an article about whether Cardinal O’Connor would actually retire, as many thought he would.

Harrington told me: “Many people assumed he would retire. But he’s as active as he ever was. He’s all priest, and still tending to his flock.”

I remember people remarking to me at the time that Harrington got it right — that O’Connor was “all priest.”

I talked to Harrington for the last time only this past August. He was chairman of the capital campaign for the new Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a residential nursing facility for severely disabled children, which is scheduled to open in Yonkers next year.

He was so enthusiastic about the work of the Seton Center, currently located in NYC.

“You can’t describe the work that these folks are doing,” he said.

It would take me an hour to list all the Catholic institutions and causes that Harrington worked for. He was a member of the board of both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Joseph’s Seminary.

In 1999, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, known as the Papal Medal, the highest medal awarded to a layperson by the pope.

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for Harrington on Wednesday at 10:15 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Harrington’s loss will leave a big hole in the Catholic Church of New York.

Mass to honor Fulton Sheen

I was only a few years old when Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s TV career ended, so I never saw his show.

But so many people have told me about the influence of Sheen’s TV ministry that I almost feel like I was there (it helps that I’ve seen old clips of the show).

1951-bishop sheen during first broadcast of life is worth living-3This Wednesday (Dec. 9) will be the 30th anniversary of Sheen’s death. A memorial Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at St. Patrick’s, with Archbishop Dolan presiding. It will be televised live on EWTN.

Dolan recently said that he is modeling himself a bit on Sheen, which is no surprise, given Dolan’s comfort level with the media.

Sheen is buried in the crypt under the main altar of St. Patrick’s. On Wednesday, the crypt will be opened to the faithful from 3 to 5 p.m., right before the Mass.

Since 2002, the Vatican has been considering Sheen for sainthood. If he makes it, he would be the first American-born bishop-saint.

Sheen is most famous for his show “Life is Worth Living,” which aired on Tuesday nights from 1951 to 1957, getting up to 30 million viewers a week.

He also had a syndicated series, “The Fulton Sheen Program,” which aired from 1961 to 1968.

Before TV, he had a two-decade radio career that started in 1930. And he’s credited with writing 73 books.

Watch him condemn communism here:

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ADD: A reader brought to my attention an old clip of Sheen appearing on the TV game show “What’s My Line.” A panel of blind-folded celebrities had to guess Sheen’s identity by asking him questions.

It’s a hoot to watch.

Once the panel confirms that the mystery guest appears on TV — but works for a non-profit — one panelist offers: “Weekly on television and non-profit? You have a crazy sponsor.”

She gets a big laugh.

Sheen eventually asks for his winnings to go to leper colonies run by the Vatican.

Here’s the clip:

Photo: Fultonsheen.com

What a show

Not even a personality as large as Timothy Dolan’s could really stand out today at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Not when you have 11 American cardinals there. Plus more than 100 archbishops and bishops. And, oh yeah, something like 700 or 800 priests.

Not when Holy Communion is distributed to some 2,500 people in less than 15 minutes.

This was about the liturgy more than it was about the New Guy. Liturgy and tradition and the meaning of it all.

I think Dolan would agree. He said so in his homily:

“Let’s get one thing clear: This is not all about Timothy Dolan, or all about cardinals and bishops, or about priests and sisters, or even about family and cherished friends. Nope. This is all about two people: Him and her. This is all about Jesus and his bride, the church. For, as de Lubac asked, ‘What would I ever know of him without her?’ ”

Dolan was around, of course. Right out there. Before things got started, he stood on Fifth Avenue and greeted priests as they marched by and into the cathedral. After the Mass, he was back outside, waving and clasping his hands together and shaking them like you do when you have something to be proud of.

His press conference this morning was quite interesting. But I’ll get to that later, after I write my article for tomorrow’s paper.

One more look back at the last installation

Before I head back to the cathedral…

So here’s what I wrote about Day Two of Cardinal Egan’s installation for the Journal News of June 20, 2000:

NEW YORK – Archbishop Edward M. Egan, distinguished canon lawyer and personal friend of Pope John Paul II, was better known in Rome than in America when he was introduced five weeks ago as the next leader of the New York Archdiocese.

How quickly things change.

Nearly 3,000 people filled St. Patrick’s Cathedral yesterday to witness Egan celebrate his first Mass as archbishop. The special Mass, honoring Egan‘s installation as New York’s ninth archbishop, was fit for a prince of a nearly 2,000-year-old church.

A 100-voice choir sang sacred hymns and St. Patrick’s majestic organ soared to announce Egan‘s presence at the end of a 45-minute procession into the cathedral. All eyes were on the new archbishop as he slowly walked up the main aisle, claimed the ornate bishop’s chair upon the altar and celebrated the Mass that is at the heart of Roman Catholic faith.

Egan, a native of Oak Park, Ill., who was ordained in 1958, succeeds Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who died May 3. O’Connor’s name was invoked several times during the joyous ceremony.

During his homily, Egan focused on the need for the 10-county Archdiocese of New York and its 2.4 million Catholics to come together in prayer and good works. He called on the faithful to fight discrimination, poverty and abortion.

” May we stand idly by while the being within the mother is killed, even though no one has ever been able to prove it has anything but an inalienable right to live? ” he asked, drawing sustained applause from the mostly invited guests in the pews.

Egan is concluding 12 years as bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport and is beginning his new job at the age of 68, when most men are readying for retirement, if not reveling in it.

He faces numerous pressing challenges, including how to minister to the growing number of Catholics from non-English speaking countries, and solutions for Catholic hospitals bleeding money. Other issues include inner-city churches that may need to be closed and how to reverse the declining number of priests.

But yesterday was about the archbishop’s arrival, not the work before him.

Egan actually became archbishop on Sunday, when he took canonical possession of the archdiocese through a simple legal ceremony required by canon law. Yesterday’s Mass was a liturgical celebration of his assumption of power.

” One of the earliest characteristics that makes a Christian community is the presence of the bishop, ” Christopher Bellitto, professor of church history at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, said before Mass. ” From the earliest days of the church, when there is not a bishop, there has been disorder, a lack of communion and confusion. When a bishop is named, you have social and religious peace. That is what today is about. ”

Among the many dignitaries to fill the front rows were: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her rival for U.S. Senate, Rep. Rick Lazio, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and other state and city officials.

Egan spent much of his early career in Rome and is considered theologically conservative. He has quickly developed a reputation in New York as being brainy, formal and reserved.

But he showed a bit of a personal touch just before yesterday’s closing procession when he introduced his 96-year-old first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Donatilla Ryan, a Dominican nun from River Forest, Ill.

” She always begins her letters, ‘Dear Father Eddie,’ ” Egan said, smiling broadly. ” They always contain suggestions and directives. ”

Ryan, a small, white-haired lady sitting about 20 pews back, stood up for an unexpected round of applause.

An elaborate procession featuring more than 800 priests, bishops, archbishops and eight cardinals led Egan into the cathedral. The cardinals included Cardinal William Baum of the Vatican and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who gave the homily at O’Connor’s funeral Mass.

Among the bishops were several churchmen who were once considered front-runners to succeed O’Connor, including Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of the archdiocese of military services, and Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo.

Dozens of bishops represented every corner of the country, from Hartford to Tulsa, Green Bay to Great Falls.

When the procession concluded and Egan reached the altar, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, read a letter from John Paul II that nominated Egan for his new post.

”We exhort you, venerable brother, mindful of the greater authority which you have received, to renew your commitment to teach and guide the flock entrusted to your care, ” Montalvo read.

Montalvo then led Egan to the bishop’s chair, where Egan greeted dozens of church officials, lay leaders and representatives of other Christian churches and other religions. At first, guests climbed the three stairs to the cathedral, where Egan placed his hands on their shoulders to greet them. But then Egan left his new seat and descended to meet his guests.

Once the installation ceremony was complete, Egan, without delay, made the sign of the cross and began the celebration of the Mass. A nephew and namesake, Edward Michael Egan, brought up the bread and wine for communion.

Additionally, a niece, Mary Egan Hayes, gave the first reading, from Jeremiah 1: 4-9. The second reading, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, was given in Spanish, signaling Egan‘s intention of reaching out to Hispanics, who represent about 40 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese.

In fact, prayers of intercession were said in nine languages, including Chinese, Creole and Slovak.

In his homily, Egan talked about his visits to the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul in Rome and referred to St. Patrick’s as a basilica. He also focused on the importance of Catholic education and noted a national poll that found many Catholics uncertain about the meaning of the bread and wine of communion.

” I do not know how valid that poll might have been, ” he said. ” But I do know we must be a prayerful people in the Archdiocese of New York – a Eucharistic prayerful people – if our basilica is to stand. And our basilica will thrive on prayer if the prayer is lived up to in works of charity.

”My prayer today, ” Egan said, ” is that a New Yorker can remove all doubt that faith is the foundation of our basilica. ”

After several priests distributed communion wafers, soprano Renee Fleming of the Metropolitan Opera, whom Egan referred to as ” a dear friend, ” sang a stirring rendition of ” Alleluia ” from Mozart’s ” Exultate Jubilate. ” Many worshipers looked spellbound by her performance.

As the service came to a close, Egan stepped down from the altar to follow the procession back to the cathedral‘s great doors. He walked slowly up the center aisle, stopping to shake hands, call out to friends and acknowledge applause. He seemed to want to give as many people as possible an opportunity to see their spiritual leader up close.

Then he walked out the great doors, clutching his crucifix in his right hand and the bishop’s staff in his left, and smiled at the thousands of parishioners, shoppers, tourists and others who strained for a glimpse of the new archbishop of New York.

Half way there

Just back from St. Patrick’s and Solemn Vespers.

Now, I didn’t have the best view. The media were put on the side of the sanctuary, behind two sections of priests. So we mostly had to watch on TV screens, although we could see the tops of everyone’s heads in the sanctuary.

We did get a good look at Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s back when he climbed up to the pulpit to deliver his homily.

It was a good vantage point, actually, when he talked about his “brother priests.” “I am so awestruck,” he said, “to be the elder brother of a presbyterate known for its zeal and devotion. I thank you, brother priests, for continuing to be agents of the divine institution, and to you I pledge my life and love.”

After he said this, he stopped back, turned around and motioned to the rows of priests in front of us. He wanted to emphasize that he meant it — his life and love. Clearly, Dolan knows that priests have been battered in recent years and that the priests of New York, in particular, are suffering from low morale.

Having knocked on the doors of St. Patrick’s (9 times!) to start the service, Dolan talked about the need to open oneself to Jesus and the church. He cited some reasons that people close themselves off:

“There’s sin, fear, and sadness to keep us closed-up inside, evident in so many problems and worries: the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and caring for those hurt; the challenges of strengthening our parishes, schools, and charitable outreach; the threats to marriage, family, to the unborn baby and fragile human life at all stages; the need for vocations. The list is long. The list is haunting.”

He joked about having on his own chains, which made him weary of coming to the great pulpit of NY.

“Following the likes of Hughes, Hayes, Spellman, Cooke, O’Connor, and Egan! Sounds like McNamara’s band, and I’m not up to being part of it.”

But he decided to be brave — counting on some God-given confidence — and called on the Catholics of New York to do the same:

“And this evening, when you opened those bronze doors to my knock, and I beheld a church, an archdiocese, that has been opening the doors to Christ for 201 years, am I ever glad I listened to him and took the chain off.”

On to tomorrow’s Mass of Installation, when this midwestern prelate — who blows kisses to his congregants — takes canonical possession of NY and its 2-and-a-half million Catholics (give or take a few hundred thousand).

Dolan hits the ground running (and talking)

As I head out for St. Patrick’s…

If you read Archbishop Dolan’s interview with the AP’s Rachel Zoll or watch his impromptu press conference yesterday outside the cathedral, you almost have to like the guy.

That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with him or even like everything about him.

But he’s direct, open, talks about his faith in a clear way, is a good communicator and has a sense of humor. How many religious leaders can you say that about?

Walking into St. Patrick’s “brought a tear to my eye.” He can’t wait to visit Ground Zero “like the Holy Father did.” He’s going to a food pantry in the South Bronx on Friday and a Holocaust memorial service on Monday. He wants to fight skepticism about his church, especially bad feelings from the sex-abuse crisis. He’s going to explain the church’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion over and over and talk to those who believe differently.

And he’ll keep talking about hot dogs and baseball and “wanting to be a parish priest.”

If you care at all about the role of religion in the public square, Tim Dolan promises to be a compelling fellow.

I’ll try to post some thoughts when I get home tonight, but it will be kind of late.

And then there’s a press conference tomorrow morning. But it sounds like Dolan’s tenure will be something like one, long press conference, doesn’t it?

Looking back at Egan’s installation

Way back in June of 2000, I attended the two-day installation of Archbishop Edward Egan at St. Patrick’s.

It’s a cliche, but true: It seems like just yesterday.

The way things were set up then, Egan took “canonical possession” of the archdiocese on the first day and celebrated Mass the second day.

This time around, Archbishop Dolan will take part in a Solemn Vespers service today. But he will take charge tomorrow at the Mass of Installation.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for the June 19th Journal News about Day One of Egan’s installation (the article I write tonight will likely be quite similar):

NEW YORK – A bishop’s miter placed on his head, a shepherd’s staff now in his hand, Archbishop Edward M. Egan yesterday walked slowly across the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and stopped in front of the great chair from which Cardinal John J. O’Connor presided.

He hesitated briefly before finally sitting back in the cathedra. A burst of applause rose from the pews. A new era for the Roman Catholic church in New York had begun.

Egan, 68, officially took charge of the Archdiocese of New York, becoming its ninth archbishop and 12th overall leader. Before 2,400 mostly invited guests, he became the spiritual leader of the archdiocese’s 2.4 million Catholics and the unofficial leader of Catholicism in America.

In a mostly low-key legal ceremony, Egan took ” canonical possession ” of the archdiocese, succeeding the beloved O’Connor, who died May 3. A far more elaborate installation ceremony will take place at the cathedral today, featuring a 45-minute procession with at least eight cardinals and the appearance of numerous politicians and dignitaries.

Egan, the outgoing bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, was humble and deeply appreciative of his new assignment. During a sharply focused homily, his first as archbishop, he talked about his affection for the archdiocese, where he served as an auxiliary bishop from 1985 to 1988.

” Throughout the 3 1/2 years, I was continuously captivated by the wonder and goodness of this great archdiocese, ” he said in a slow, measured cadence. ” There was hardly a day when I was not genuinely inspired. ”

The ceremony began at 3:45 p.m. with a procession of 11 tall banners. The first proclaimed ” Unus Dominus, Una Fides, Unum Baptisma (One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism). ” Then students carried banners for each of the archdiocese’s 10 counties, inspiring applause from worshipers in the pews.

” This is really a privilege, ” Margaret Anthony, 18, of Brewster, one of three students who carried Putnam County’s banner, said just before the ceremony. ” I didn’t understand how important this was until now. ”

” It’s a honor to represent your county at something like this, ” said Kristen Ragazzo, 17, of Brewster.

” It’s history, really, ” Anthony added.

Soon after the procession ended, Egan appeared at the cathedral‘s great doors in flowing white vestments and spectators strained their necks for a glimpse. In accordance with church tradition, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio in the United States, formally presented Egan to Bishop Robert Brucato, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

” On behalf of the people of the Archdiocese of New York, I welcome you to this cathedral and this archdiocese, ” Brucato said.

Bishop Patrick Sheridan, vicar general of the archdiocese, then presented Egan with a crucifix. And Monsignor Anthony Dalla Villa, rector of St. Patrick’s, presented him with a sprinkler of holy water.

Egan blessed himself and those in the rear of the cathedral and then, as the cathedral organ swelled, began to walk slowly up the main aisle. Applause rippled forward from the back of the cathedral like a wave. Egan, smiling broadly, bowed to one side and then the other, and stopped several times so that everyone could see him.

When Egan reached the altar, he stood and faced the pews, his hands clasped in front of him. He did not move, except to wipe perspiration from his brow, as Montalvo praised his commitment to the church and read a letter of appointment from Pope John Paul II.

” Archbishop Egan is called by God to continue the work of the great archbishops who have come before, ” Montalvo said.

Monsignor Edward O’Connell, the chancellor and notary of the archdiocese, then showed the appointment papers to the veteran priests who make up the archdiocese’s Board of Consultors and stamped the documents with the seal of the archdiocese.

Montalvo presented Egan with his miter and crosier, the bishop’s staff, and the transition was over.

Despite several enthusiastic ovations, ticket holders for yesterday’s ceremony were generally respectful and quiet, perhaps trying to figure out what to make of Egan, who is largely unknown in New York, outside of the archdiocese’s headquarters.

Then again, O’Connor, coming from Scranton, Pa., was a mysterious figure when he was appointed to replace Cardinal Terence Cooke.

” Archbishop Egan has spent much of his time in Rome, so he has quite a background, ” said Sister Joan Clark, director of pastoral care and counseling for St. Dominick’s Home in Blauvelt. ” In Bridgeport, he really made his place in financial circles, so he may be able to get people to contribute more money here. But, hopefully, he will also bring the pastoral service that the church needs. The people want a listener and a responder. ”

Egan, a native of Oak Park, Ill., used most of his homily to tell a story that connected his former diocese in Connecticut with his new one.

During his years as an auxiliary bishop in New York, he said, he visited a parish in the Highbridge section of the Bronx to ordain deacons in the presence of Mother Teresa. But just before the Mass was over, a bloodied and beaten man ran into the church seeking refuge.

He described how Mother Teresa and several other nuns attended to the man.

” Never in my life had I seen anything like the way he was treated, ” Egan said. ” It was everything that Jesus Christ would want. ”

Another man at the parish that day was similarly affected and, offering to drive Egan home, promised to help the church some day. That man, Jon Bokron, would later enter St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers and become a priest in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Bokron was ordained in 1991 and died from leukemia in 1993.

Egan concluded his homily by telling Hispanic worshippers, in Spanish, how much he appreciates Latino language, culture and music. Hispanics make up about 40 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese.

Afterward, Egan joined clergy and representatives of Catholic organizations and orders for a private reception at the archdiocese’s headquarters.

St. Patrick’s was not full on a rainy Father’s Day, so several hundred people without tickets were invited inside to fill the pews and stand along the sides of the cathedral. Tourists with thick shopping bags, teen-agers in frayed shorts and a young mother with an infant on her back were among those surprised to witness Egan‘s historic installation.

”Now he’s getting a taste of the real New York, ” one guest said.

As the church turns: Egan, Dolan say their farewells

Archbishop Dolan celebrated Easter Mass in Milwaukee yesterday and said farewell to the archdiocese:

“I will miss you all very much. I love you very much. I will never forget you. And I will remain ever grateful to you.”

According to a Milwaukee TV station, Dolan spent some time at the end of the Mass “doing what he does best: talking, connecting with people, and of course making them all laugh.”

There’s a slideshow here.

Dolan comes to New York today — and he’ll be all over the news the next few days.

Solemn Vespers tomorrow evening. Mass of Installation Wednesday. You know he’s going to say some memorable stuff.

I’ll be at St. Patrick’s for both events.

I have an article in today’s Journal News/LoHud about the Great Expectations facing the new Archbishop of New York.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Egan covered a lot of ground during Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s. Here’s the AP story (and make sure you catch the last line):

KAREN MATTHEWS
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Cardinal Edward Egan, who will retire as head of New York City’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese on Wednesday, told worshippers at his last Easter Mass that mortal life is fleeting and “we are here for a moment in eternity.”

Egan, who was hospitalized for several days with a stomach ailment and missed Palm Sunday services, appeared robust though at times he leaned heavily on his staff.

A standing-room-only crowed of about 2,700 attended Sunday’s Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

Afterward, the 77-year-old Egan said he felt fine.

“I don’t know what in the world happened to me last Saturday,” he said. “I got this virus or something or other in my stomach and things weren’t operating.”

Egan was released from St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday. While he was there, doctors said he would need to have a pacemaker implanted.

“I’ve got plenty of time to do that,” Egan said Sunday. “The heart is still ticking.”

Egan is leaving after nine years leading the New York Archdiocese’s 2.5 million Catholics in New York City and its northern suburbs. Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be installed as his successor on Wednesday.

Egan plans a busy retirement ministering to French-speaking Catholics at the new Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary mission on Manhattan’s East Side.

“I am going to see if we can create a community that supports in a very special way what we call the Francophone community,” he said.

During his homily, Egan spoke of a visit to China 35 years ago when a group of young people living under Mao’s rule asked, “Tell us about God.”

Egan said he told them about the resurrection of Christ, and when a young man asked if he believed it, he responded that “witnesses to the death and resurrection were not such as would invent such a story.”

He said that Americans are fortunate to live in a country where religion can be practiced freely, though “the media are rather unfriendly.”

He said the Easter message is more relevant than ever in the current gloomy economic time.

“In my 77 years I have never known a time when the proclaiming was as needed as it is now,” he said.

Egan often has seemed a distant and aloof figure and has not cultivated a warm relationship with New York’s media.

Asked about successor, he told reporters, “You’re going to like him very much. He’s going to talk to you much more than I do.”

Egan: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Cardinal Egan ready to go

Cardinal Egan will celebrate Mass for Holy Thursday at 5:30 p.m. today at St. Patrick’s.

His role in Holy Week had been unclear because of two health scares.

The cardinal also plans to participate in tomorrow’s Good Friday service at noon, when he will preach on the Seven Last Words of Christ.

And he expects to celebrate Easter Mass at 10:15 a.m. (when tickets are required).

As you know by now, the cardinal was hospitalized Saturday with stomach pain. Subsequent tests showed that he will need a pacemaker, but the procedure has been temporarily put off.

Egan was released from St. Vincent’s Hospital Tuesday and has been resting up at home.

So he will take part in his last Holy Week as archbishop — yes, officially, he is now “administrator” of the archdiocese — before Archbishop Timothy Dolan takes charge next week.