WASHINGTON, March 14 (AP) -- Cigarette smoke spilled into the air and hung above the crowded bar, mingling with language that was less than holy.

It was Happy Hour at Lulu's, where Washington loosens its tie and tries to put a bit of positive spin on the day's events. Beer mug in hand, secretary Sheila Johnson was just beginning to sink into the mood.

Then she turned around and saw the silver-haired man in black, with the cleric's collar: His Eminence, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. She wasn't the only one to do a quick double-take.

"You have to go where the people are," McCarrick, who is 70, said over the blare of pop music and bar chatter. "Many of these people are probably saints. If I were holier, I might be able to tell you which."

McCarrick, a newly minted cardinal, made a statement about his personal theology Tuesday night, becoming one of the first Roman Catholic cardinals in recent memory to take part in a Catholic outreach program called Theology on Tap. The 20-year-old program puts priests in bars and invites Catholics and non-Catholics alike to relax and listen to a short sermon.

Few, if any, cardinals have ever spoken at the event, according to the Archdiocese of Washington.

Some regular patrons, like Johnson, found McCarrick's presence a little disconcerting.

"OK. ... What is the cardinal doing here?" Jackson exclaimed - after McCarrick walked out of earshot. "This is a bar. I'm Catholic, but I don't come here for religion," she joked.

The cardinal made only a brief stop at Lulu's main bar before heading into a room crowded with about 500 young Catholics, drinking beer and ready to listen. A few non-Catholic patrons wandered in to listen as well.

The sermon was riddled with jokes and a few unexpected personal revelations. Apparently, McCarrick was thrown out of high school for disciplinary reasons. And when he was about to be given his commission by Pope John Paul II last month in Rome he was thinking, "I hope I don't trip."

But the sermon also had its serious moments.

"You have to make the effort to take control of your life and make sure that you are becoming all that God wants you to be, all that you can be," McCarrick said. "It is possible to rush through all of this and end up with nothing."

Those who came to see McCarrick speak didn't find the setting to be a distraction.

"Catholics don't have this whole aversion to alcohol," said Monica Miller, 27, a graduate student at Georgetown University. "So it is natural for people to meet over a few drinks and talk about God."

Still, McCarrick says he realizes some conservative Catholics might not approve of a cardinal preaching in a bar. It didn't make him think twice about doing it, though.

"I could understand their concern, but to the average person, rank doesn't mean anything," McCarrick said. "We need to be about spreading the good news of our Lord and savior. The good news is that God wants to walk with you, wants to love you, every single day."

As cardinal, McCarrick is the spiritual leader of about 500,000 Roman Catholics in the District of Columbia and the surrounding area. He formerly was archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

For the owner of Lulu's, the whole affair was strictly business.

"We would let anyone have a party here, if the circumstances were right," Anthony Cavallo, manager of the downtown establishment, said. "This is just a regular bar, for people who buy beer. The rest is just for publicity."
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