Pittsburghers excited to see native son become cardinal
The Rev. Donald Breier rushed to pack yesterday before celebrating Mass and heading to the airport.
Breier, 67, rector at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland and cousin of Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, was heading to Rome for a two-day ceremony tomorrow and Sunday at the Vatican during which Wuerl will be elevated to cardinal.
“I really don’t quite know what to expect this weekend,” said Breier, who is among the estimated 400 people from Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh expected to attend the ceremony. “I just have never seen anything like this.”
Wuerl, 70, grew up in Mt. Washington and was bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh for 18 years before being named archbishop of Washington in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI announced his selection of Wuerl to the College of Cardinals on Oct. 20.
Among those heading to Rome are Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, one-time secretary to Wuerl who has known him for 23 years; Wuerl’s two brothers; and countless priests and friends. Even Steelers Chairman Emeritus Dan Rooney, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, will attend the ceremony.
“It will be an awesome experience,” said Zubik, who talks to Wuerl several times a month. “What is so special is that the church recognizes his special gifts.”
Breier grew up in Mt. Oliver and attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati with Wuerl five decades ago. Their family has produced priests in each of the past four generations.
“He is probably one of the smartest people I have known. He has true intelligence and common sense,” Breier said. “He wants to build bridges, and knows that most prejudice and bigotry is based on ignorance.”
Wuerl’s appointment as a cardinal was not a surprise, said Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of “Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church.”
“He has been very well liked in the Vatican,” Reese said. “He is very smart and takes the teaching role of the bishops seriously. He is no liberal, but he does not like confrontation, and has no interest in things like denying communion to pro-choice politicians or threatening people with excommunication.”
Wuerl spent a decade in Rome and was one of was one of three non-cardinals permitted inside the 1978 conclave that selected Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.
His reputation and role as a bridge-builder will be important in an increasingly conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said John Allen, who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter.
“He’s one of the few liked and trusted, by both the conservatives and the more liberal social justice group, among the bishops,” Allen said. “Wuerl is a consummate churchman — loyal and very much a team player. Inside the bishops’ conference, he’s seen as a moderate. Wherever Wuerl is, there’s the center of the conference.”
Archbishop Donald Wuerl is one of two Americans among the 24 cardinals who will be installed this weekend.
The group includes the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt; the Archbishop of Warsaw; and the Archbishop of Columba, Sri Lanka.
The most prominent task of the College of Cardinals is voting in papal elections.
This weekend’s events in Rome bring the number of voting cardinals to 203. Sixty have been named by Pope Benedict XVI. Eighty-two cardinals are older than 80 and ineligible to vote in papal elections.
Wuerl brings to six the number cardinals leading archdioceses in the United States. Four American cardinals work in Rome, and another eight U.S. cardinals are retired.