NEW YORK, April 25 (CNS)--Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York is prayerfully preparing ``to go home,'' Father Benedict J. Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal told a Good Friday congregation at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Delivering Good Friday meditations, Groeschel commented briefly on the absence of the cardinal, who has delivered the meditations in previous years, and said he was ``desperately'' ill.

Father Groeschel, director of the New York archdiocesan Office of Spiritual Development, asked for prayers for the cardinal and for his doctors.

Joseph Zwilling, the cardinal's spokesman, reported that Auxiliary Bishop Robert A. Brucato, substituting for O'Connor at the Easter Sunday Mass, ``said he brought the cardinal's greetings to the congregation, and would bring the congregation's greetings back to him.''

But there was no written statement such as O'Connor had sometimes sent to be read when he could not be present for a Mass, Zwilling said.

O'Connor, who had surgery for removal of a brain tumor Aug. 31 and underwent about five weeks of radiation, regained some strength at the beginning of the year and visited Pope John Paul II and other officials at the Vatican Feb. 9-11.

But he then became markedly weaker, and Zwilling told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview April 24 that O'Connor was no longer involved in the work of the archdiocese.

Zwilling said he had not seen the cardinal in recent weeks, but kept informed about his condition primarily by talking with Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo, his secretary, and Eileen White, a lawyer who is the cardinal's special counsel.

They reported April 22 that O'Connor was able get out of his bed and use a cane to walk to a sitting room and to his chapel, Zwilling said.

He said the cardinal remained ``extremely weak,'' had ``diminished'' hearing because of treatments he had received, and was unable to read because of eye problems.

Visitors read to O'Connor, and he can and does watch television and converse on the telephone, Zwilling said, adding that visitors were mostly members of the cardinal's family, especially his sister, Mary Therese O'Connor Ward.

Zwilling said the time O'Connor could stay on his feet varied, but he was able to celebrate Mass in his chapel most days and prayed the rosary.

The secretary also serves as driver, and has taken the cardinal on some outings, Zwilling said.

O'Connor has not celebrated his usual Sunday Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral since Feb. 20. His last appearance at a cathedral Mass was March 5, when he presided but did not celebrate or preach, and his last meeting with staff was March 7. His column in the archdiocesan weekly, Catholic New York, last appeared March 16.

O'Connor's doctors have never given the public any reports about the tumor they removed, results of follow-up tests or any information about his weakening condition.

When a reporter asked O'Connor in October if he had cancer, he said he was not using the word because his doctors had not used it.

Zwilling, asked in the CNS interview if O'Connor had cancer, said he could not comment or talk about the cardinal's instructions to him about handling news of his illness.

When O'Connor initially went to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in August, tests were carried out under the direction of Kevin M. Cahill, his primary care physician, and Thomas J. Fahey, an oncologist on the hospital staff.

But Zwilling said he could not disclose the names of the doctors now in charge of O'Connor's treatment or disclose whether he receives nursing care.

Four other clergy live with O'Connor in his residence: Bishop Brucato and Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. Sheridan, co-vicars general of the archdiocese; Msgr. Edward D. O'Donnell, chancellor, and Msgr. Mustaciuolo. A request by CNS for an interview with one or more of them was refused.

O'Connor ``has received a steady stream of cards, letters and faxes offering good wishes and prayers,'' and ``is very grateful for them,'' Zwilling said.

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