NEW YORK (AP) — Cardinal Edward Egan was God's servant and worked tirelessly for parishes, charities, health care and education, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Tuesday at a funeral Mass for one of the most powerful prelates in the global Roman Catholic Church.
Dolan told the 2,500 people packing St. Patrick's Cathedral that Egan "was uncomfortable with eulogies" — but went on to praise him nonetheless. He said New Yorkers from fellow clergy members to "God's good people" could tell of "consolation given on and after 9/11, prayers offered, sick visited, prisoners encouraged, children taught, immigrants welcomed and parishes strengthened."
"Now this church thanks God for him," said Dolan, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Egan, a Vatican theological force, led the New York archdiocese for almost a decade, including on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked planes decimated the World Trade Center and more than 2,700 people died. In the weeks that followed, he performed many funerals.
He died March 5 after a heart attack at age 82.
Tuesday's music-filled service got off to a noisy start with drummers and bagpipers from the city's police and fire departments accompanying a funeral procession along the blocked-off streets around the Manhattan cathedral. Police barriers held back crowds.
Inside, amid construction scaffolding for a yearslong renovation, solemn organ and vocal music accompanied several hundred Catholic clergy members, including almost a dozen cardinals and archbishops and about 30 bishops, as they walked slowly down the center aisle toward Egan's casket, draped in white and gold at the foot of the altar.
Several of Egan's relatives took part in the Mass, some calling him Uncle Ed.
In the pews were Gov. Andrew Cuomo, police Commissioner William Bratton and four mayors: incumbent Bill de Blasio and former mayors Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani and David Dinkins.
During the communion, international opera stars Renee Fleming and Matthew Polenzani sang Cesar Franck's "Panis Angelicus," whose Latin lyrics mean, "The bread of angels becomes the bread of men." Fleming also offered Franz Schubert's soaring "Ave Maria."
The soprano was a longtime Egan friend and performed at his installation as archbishop in 2000.
After the service, Egan's coffin was carried through the cathedral as mourners applauded, then lowered into a crypt below the altar where other notable Catholics have been entombed.
On Monday and Tuesday, for a viewing attended by thousands of people, Egan lay in the vast stone cathedral where his rich, booming voice once rang out. Dolan said he had "sneaked" into the darkened church in the middle of the night to pray alone next to the open casket.
"As I gazed upon his body ... I saw on him in the casket what he treasured most: on his chest was the cross, in whose victory we trust he now shares; in his hands was his rosary, reminding me of his prayers and his trust in the Mother of Jesus; on his finger the bishop's ring, telling us that he was married to the bride of Christ, the church," Dolan said.
Egan, with the title of archbishop emeritus, retired in 2009 after nine years of leading the archdiocese, which serves more than 2.6 million Catholics in about 400 parishes in parts of the city and its northern suburbs.
The cardinal, born in Oak Park, Illinois, was an authority on church law and was fluent in Latin. He was one of just a few experts tapped by Pope John Paul II to help with the herculean job of revising the Code of Canon Law for the global church.
Egan also oversaw a thorny overhaul of New York church finances, eliminating a multimillion-dollar debt.
But above all, Dolan said, Egan "served Jesus as he loved and served the children, the sick, the families, the poor, the elderly through the church."
At the funeral, the Vatican's emissary to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, delivered a message of praise from Pope Francis in Rome.