Mourners remember Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's love for his people and his city

In an apparent reference to the clergy sex-abuse crisis, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua had "carried the burden of leadership at a very painful time for Catholics in the United States."
In an apparent reference to the clergy sex-abuse crisis, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua had "carried the burden of leadership at a very painful time for Catholics in the United States." (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 08, 2012

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua was laid to rest Tuesday alongside the tombs of his predecessors, the bishops and archbishops of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"He loved his people. He loved Philadelphia," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput toward the close of the two-hour funeral Mass and entombment at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. "May he enter into the eternal gladness of his Lord."

Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 to 2003, died in his sleep Jan. 31 at his residence at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. He was 88.

The basilica was filled nearly to its capacity of 1,800, including about 275 priests, 60 bishops and archbishops, and four cardinals, including Justin Rigali, Bevilacqua's retired successor.

Final rites began with a 20-minute procession of priests, prelates, and seminarians escorting his closed, draped coffin to the center of sanctuary beneath the basilica's great dome.

"I offer my heartfelt condolences to you and to all the faithful of the archdiocese," Pope Benedict XVI told the assemblage via a telegram read by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal legate to the United States.

Benedict cited Bevilacqua's "long-standing commitment to social justice and the pastoral care of immigrants" and his expert command of church law. He gave his blessing to the clergy of the diocese and to the members of Bevilacqua's large family, who filled four pews to the right of the casket.

Bevilacqua's many brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews figured into the introduction of the homily by Msgr. Louis D'Addezio, who began by recalling the new archbishop's very first instructions.

"Lou," Bevilacqua told D'Addezio in early 1988 from Pittsburgh, where was then bishop, "I want a party for my family on the night I arrive in Philadelphia."

D'Addezio, the archdiocese's event organizer, rented the grand court of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and hired the Ferko String Band.

"The captain put his fancy headpiece on the archbishop's head - official photo taken - and the party began," D'Addezio recalled, describing it as the first of many family gatherings around the cardinal in the decades that followed.

His family "brought nothing but joy to his life," said D'Addezio, who became a close friend to the somewhat private archbishop, and his assistant after Bevilacqua retired.

His homily went on to celebrate the many good works D'Addezio saw Bevilacqua perform during their long friendship. He told of the many Thanksgivings the archbishop spent not with family, but in hospitals, praying with the sick, blessing them, and leaving them with religious medals.

He also recalled how, during his 15-year tenure here, Bevilacqua visited all 302 parishes in the five-county archdiocese.

When he visited D'Addezio's parish, St. John the Evangelist in Center City, in 1990, the two walked together through what he called the "red-light district" to visit a parishioner dying of AIDS. "Tears came to all our eyes," he said, as Bevilacqua spoke to the man.

He also recalled Bevilacqua's regular visits to ailing priests, his insistence that the annual cardinal's Christmas party for children grow from a tepid affair into a "real party," his strict punctuality, and his legendary disdain for cheese on his pasta, which drew laughter from many in the pews.

D'Addezio also alluded to the harsh public criticism Bevilacqua endured for his handling of sexually abusive clergy, which left him, he said, in a state of depression during much of his retirement.

"These years have been years of suffering for so many, for all of us in the archdiocese," D'Addezio said. "And he did not escape this suffering."

Members of the cardinal's family, including brother Frank and sister Madeline Langan, brought the gifts to the altar. They were presented to Chaput, who celebrated the consecration with Rigali, Viganò, and several other priests and bishops.

After the distribution of Holy Communion, Chaput said that after just five months as Philadelphia's archbishop, it would be "foolish" for him to "try to sum up in a few words a life as long and significant" as Bevilacqua's.

But, he said, "we're each a mixture of success and failure, selfishness and self-giving. None of our titles or public reputation, for good or for ill, finally matters."

All that matters, Chaput said, is that a person tries to be a saint, which means to "love and forgive others as zealously as God loves and forgives us."

In an apparent reference to the clergy sex-abuse crisis that erupted 10 years ago in Boston and touched nearly every diocese in the United States, Chaput said Bevilacqua had "carried the burden of leadership at a very painful time for Catholics in this country."

He urged his listeners to heed a line from the novel The Bridge Over San Luis Rey: "In love, our very mistakes don't seem to be able to last long" and asked them to "remember the good that [Bevilacqua] accomplished, and the thousands of lives he touched through his personal kindness."

"We can dwell on the past, or we can renew the church with our lives and our love," Chaput said. "It's up to us. The work is now in our hands."

At the close of the Mass, Bevilacqua's casket was carried past the altar and down to a crypt beneath it, where seven of Philadelphia's previous bishops and archbishops are entombed.

Because the crypt is small and narrow, only a few members of the family and the bishops of the archdiocese accompanied the coffin to the burial rites.

Although the 10-minute ceremony was televised on screens around the sanctuary, the audio portion of the transmission did not work, so the audience watched in silence.

After the prayers and a final blessing with holy water, the coffin was lifted and placed into a shoulder-high tomb in the wall, and the group filed up into the sanctuary, where Rigali gave the final blessing.

 As she exited the basilica with her young daughter and son, Bevilacqua's niece Toni Hollywood of Hunterdon County, said she and her family "loved getting together" with the man they called "Uncle Tony."

"He baptized me, married me, and he baptized them," she said, pointing to her children.

Hollywood said she last saw the cardinal at Christmas and told him for the first time "how proud I am to be named after you."

"He said that meant a lot," she said. "I'm so glad I told him."


Contact staff writer David O'Reilly

at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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