NEW YORK, March 6 (AP)--An ailing Cardinal John O'Connor was presented with a proclamation Monday awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.
The framed proclamation was signed Sunday by President Clinton and presented to O'Connor, who has been recuperating from brain tumor surgery, in a private ceremony at his Manhattan residence adjoining St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The actual medal will be presented to the cardinal in a few months once it has been minted.
``For more than 50 years, Cardinal O'Connor has served the Catholic Church and our nation with constancy and commitment,'' Clinton said in a statement issued Sunday in Selma, Ala., where he took part in a re-enactment of a 1965 civil rights march.
``Whether it was the soldier on the battlefield or the patient dying of AIDS, Cardinal O'Connor has ministered with a gentle spirit and a loving heart,'' Clinton said. ``Through it all, he has stood strong as an advocate for the poor, a champion for workers and an inspiration for millions.''
Joseph Zwilling, the cardinal's spokesman, said this morning that the award meant a great deal to O'Connor. ``He was very, very happy, very pleased about the whole thing,'' Zwilling said.
The medal is the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, and both houses rushed earlier to approve it for O'Connor, mindful of his precarious health. The medal has been awarded to 250 people, including George Washington, the Wright Brothers and Mother Teresa.
``When I told him that the first Congressional Gold Medal was given to the patriots at Bunker Hill, the militia, he said, `That's great because I'm a military man, too,''' said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who along with Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., presented the proclamation. O'Connor served as a Navy chaplain in Vietnam and Korea.
O'Connor drew applause from worshippers at St. Patrick's on Sunday. In brief remarks at the start of the service, he called it ``a great privilege'' to be present as Auxiliary Bishop William McCormack filled in as celebrant.
During the Mass, O'Connor, wearing his red cardinal's cassock, sat behind the altar, periodically helped to his feet by an assistant for prayers and hymns
Zwilling said the 80-year-old archbishop was ``feeling better the last few days, but still weak and not able to resume a regular schedule.''
O'Connor fell twice after his return to duty last October but celebrated Mass regularly until two weeks ago. He suffers from partial hearing loss and has difficulty reading as a result of his illness.
The spokesman said it was unlikely that O'Connor would celebrate Mass on Ash Wednesday.
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