The 68-year-old archbishop, who served as bishop of Bridgeport forthe past 12 years, replaces Cardinal John O'Connor, one of the country'smost charismatic religious leaders, who died last month after a battlewith a cencerous brain tumor.
But while this was clearly Egan's day, O'Connor's spirit hung heavyin Manhattan's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral, as a sea of bishops, priests, nuns and politicians looked to the future in America's second-largest Catholic jurisdiction with one nostalgic eye clearly on the past--and the long shadowleft by O'Connor's legacy.
Egan likened the archdiocese to an ancient Roman basilica built onthe foundation of a house occupied by early Christian martyrs, and he pledged to build a sturdy, new basilica with his new flock.
"Our basilica will be strong if it is built on faith and sustainedby prayer," Egan said during his homily. "But it will only be trulystrong if that faith is lived out in the works of justice and charity."
The three-hour service had all the trappings of an ancientcoronation ceremony. Soaring choral and organ music accompanied Egandown the main aisle in a procession of clergy and others that lastedmore than 30 minutes.
The service reflected the enormous diversity of the archdiocese,with prayers being offered in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese andCreole. Egan delivered a short address in Spanish, a skill he developedin Bridgeport.
Egan's homily was interrupted by applause when he reaffirmed hiscommitments against abortion and euthanasia.
"May we allow racism, or let the sick and disabled to gounattended?" Egan said. "May we look the other way when the elderly areput to death because someone questions the quality of their life? Theanswer to these questions must be no.
"The victims of discrimination, the impoverished, the sick anddisabled, the unborn, are all images of God, and there can be noprayerful faith if there is wavering regarding the rights of thoseimages of divinity."
This is not Egan's first assignment in New York. From 1985 to 1988,Egan served under O'Connor as auxiliary bishop for education beforebeing assigned to Bridgeport. Egan said it was the love, hard work andcompassion he saw in New York that made him excited to be back.
"My prayer today is that a new New Yorker may remove with you allthe doubts about the foundations of our basilica," Egan said. "We are apeople of faith, a people of prayer, a people of justice and a people ofcharity."
Egan received thunderous applause inside the historic cathedral froma standing-room-only audience of 3,000 people, including more than 120purple-clad bishops and archbishops, eight red-vested cardinals and morethan 700 priests. The ceremony was also a Who's Who of New Yorkpolitics, with Senate candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Rick Lazioand Mayor Rudy Giuliani looking on.
Egan won accolades in Bridgeport for his attempts to strengthen thediocese's schools and recruit a new generation of priests. A closeassociate of Pope John Paul II, Egan is expected to toe the traditionalVatican line opposing abortion, homosexuality and the ordination ofwomen.
Before taking the positions in New York and Connecticut, Egan spent22 years as a professor of canon law in Rome. That position, churchobservers say, is what got Egan the job in New York.
"You combined pastoral ability and gracious manners with the defenseof the right faith and a concern for Catholic education, so that evenfrom afar your careful administration was known to all," read ArchbishopGabriel Montalvo, the pope's representative in the United States, fromthe papal letter announcing Egan's appointment.
He faces an archdiocese of 2.4 million people--seven times largerthan his flock in Bridgeport--and a bloated church infrastructure ofailing hospitals, schools and parishes. Some wonder whether Egan willclose some of those institutions, something O'Connor refused to do.
"The reason our school is still in existence is because of CardinalO'Connor, and we're not sure what will happen now," said Sister CaroleEden, a junior high English teacher at All Saints Catholic School inEast Harlem. "That's a major concern for us."
Egan also faces the struggle of competing with O'Connor's legacy forthe devotion of his flock. When Egan served under O'Connor, the two menwere cordial but never close. While O'Connor was affable andcharismatic, Egan is reserved and approaches the job, as the New YorkTimes put it, as the "consummate corporate executive."