· Interview with Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem ·
About seven months ago Benedict xvi placed the Archbishop emeritus of Baltimore at the helm of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the institution in the Holy Land which supports activities in the sectors of education, charity and social assistance. The Holy Father created him a Cardinal at the Consistory on 18 February and, last month, on 15 March, named him Grand Master of the Equestrian Order. In this interview with the Italian daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano , the American Cardinal Archbishop Edwin Frederick O’Brien talks about the new role the Pope has entrusted to him, in charge of 28 thousand including knights, dames and clerics, who are present in 59 Lieutenancies throughout the world. “The most recent, founded in the two-year period 2010/2011, are those in Russia, South Africa and Venezuela. Many other delegations are being considered”, he confided, specifying that in the last decade the Order sent the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Latins the equivalent of about 72 million euros, nine last year alone. “The most recent projects whose implementation is currently under way”, he said, “concern the construction of a new church in Aqaba, Jordan, and a secondary school in Rameh, Galilee”. But the Cardinal from New York believes that support for the Christians of the Middle East also passes through the new evangelization and that the Year of Faith, announced by the Pope is an opportunity for carrying it out.
How has the transition from Archbishop of Baltimore to Pro-Grand Master been so far?
Archbishop William Lori was named by the Holy Father as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore. It’s been almost seven months since I was nominated as Pro-Grand Master, which means I was Apostolic Administrator for all that time. So I am relieved and encouraged to see this big step taken. After he is installed on the 16 May, I can move permanently to Rome and take up the leadership of the Equestrian Order full time. As it has been I have been coming over here about a week every month but our administration here is very capable and has had carried on the business of the Order beautifully.
Where were you when the Pope announced your name as one of the new cardinals?
I was at St Peter’s Square, I was here for the Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Charles Brown, the Nuncio in Ireland, who was a student of mine when I was Rector of St Joseph Seminary in New York. So I was here for his Ordination and I was at St Peter’s Square for the Angelus on the Feast of the Epiphany when the Pope announced the joy of 22 new Cardinals. As he went down the list — I think my name was eighth — it was a very memorable moment.
Is it true that the delegation of your friends and relatives who came to Rome for the Consistory also included veterans who had fought in Vietnam?
I was stationed at West Point after my Ordination. There were some former cadets from the class of ‘69 who came for the Consistory and were at the Audience as well. Two of them I had known — I knew them all very well at West Point — but I served with two later on in Vietnam. It was very kind of them to come to the Consistory and to the events that surround it.
You were military chaplain on the Indo-Chinese front. What are your memories of that experience?
It was a very special moment in my priesthood because the spiritual hunger of the soldiers was very real and they very much appreciated the presence of a priest. Attendance at Mass was always very strong; they felt that their faith was more important to them. I was a year in Vietnam as chaplain from 1971 to 1972 and I found it very enriching and singular experience for my priesthood because the young people I served had great need for spiritual strength and motivation. Many of them returned to the practice of the faith. They were all very grateful to have a priest close by, so I thought my ministry was not only enriching for them but for myself as well.
You were born in New York where you received your priestly formation and were seminary rector and auxiliary bishop. Subsequently, you governed the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first episcopal see in the United States, founded in long ago 1789. What relationship do you have with these two places?
I love both Dioceses and both cities and I feel very much at home in either one of them. I have many friends in both places and I am very fortunate to be able to visit. I feel most welcomed in both Dioceses and I would like to keep close contact with both too. My duties as Grand Master will take me to the United States quite often and it is nice to have a place to continue to feel at home when I do visit New York and Baltimore.
You now have to be increasingly concerned with the Holy Land. Have you ever been there?
I have been to the Holy Land several times but not recently. I do have quite a bit of learning to do, of listening, observing, but I know that the Patriarch of Jerusalem and his associates as well as experts here in Rome will orientate me in a way that help give service to the Church in the Holy Land.
What are you intending to do within the Order?
I would hope to encourage them to increase the number of Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a great mission that is theirs to support the Holy Places and the mission of the Church in the New Evangelization. I would encourage all our members to visit the Holy Land on pilgrimage especially during the Year of Faith. I will not visit the Holy Land until I fully assume the office here once my roll in Baltimore is completed. Once my replacement is installed in the middle of May, I will start thinking about my own schedule in the Holy Land and the many invitations I have received from the Lieutenancies throughout the world to visit them for their annual installations.
You are succeeding your fellow-countryman Cardinal Foley. Did you meet him?
Yes, I met Cardinal Foley when he was a young priest studying journalism at Colombia University in New York. He came to West Point to do a story on the chaplaincy at West Point for his diocesan newspaper in 1966, and I had kept regular contact with him through the years, when I was here as Rector of the North American College I saw him regularly often socially. And whenever I would come to Rome thereafter I would always visit him; he was a dear friend.
In Rome you will be even closer to the Pope...
I am not sure what my contact will be with the Holy Father. I might serve on some congregation. I don’t know but I stand ready to represent him in forwarding the mission of the Church in the Holy Land. He has spoken often about the situation in the Holy Land asking for dialogue, for more accessibility on the part of the Christians there. There’s high unemployment because of limitation in travel. There has been an exodus of Christians from the Holy Land for many years. All this concerns him and I am not sure what I can do except help the Patriarch of the Holy Land to bring about a fuller presence of the Church for the freedom of Christians there.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 20, 2020
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