VATICAN CITY - Red is for real. One hour before the ceremony in which Archbishop Gerald Lacroix was raised to the status of cardinal in the Catholic Church, he could be found swiftly walking down the main aisle of St. Peter's Basilica. Lacroix, wearing his new red robes, was waving to his family and friends and doing all that he could to assure that those who traveled from New Hampshire could have the best possible seats.
His actions allowed this reporter to briefly walk past the Swiss Guards and down the main aisle of the basilica, something I must admit was exciting and something that will never happen again. Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, 56, of Quebec was raised to his new office before tens of thousands in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday, with even more people gathered to watch on giant televisions outside.
In his classic humble, yet engaging, manner, Lacroix reached over barriers before the start of the consistory to offer hugs, handshakes and his characteristic loving smile and encouraging words to all those he knew and to those who reached out to him.
The power of the moment was not lost on those gathered in the basilica, nor was it lost on Manchester's Lauren and Audra Dachowski, Lacroix's nieces, who happily exclaimed how truly exciting the day was, noting, however, that they had never lost sight of the most important thing of all: "His (Lacroix's) job and calling may have taken him to these exciting places, but he is still our Uncle Gerry, he will always be our Uncle Gerry, and nothing will ever change that."
Audra and Lauren's father, Jeff Dachowski, watched the ceremony unfold from a different perspective, from behind a camera lens. Dachowski, who owns a Bedford photography studio and who is fully accredited with the Vatican, stood elbow to elbow with some of the top photojournalists in the world on a crowded press platform in order to get the best shots of his brother-in-law and the celebrations of the day.
Dachowski is accustomed to high-profile photography, but acknowledged there is something powerful and touching about capturing the moment your brother-in-law is embraced by the Pope.
Moments before the ceremony began in the basilica, the assembled crowd burst into applause as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI emerged from a side door to sit with the College of Cardinals. Benedict, nearing the one-year anniversary of his retirement, was visibly slowed by age.
During the 90-minute ceremony, led by Pope Francis, each of the newly appointed cardinals knelt before the Holy Father to receive a red zucchetto and biretta, the skull cap and head wear worn by the cardinals, as well as title to a Church in Rome, thus keeping with tradition. Toward the conclusion of the ceremony, Pope Francis dramatically left his seat before the Altar of Peter and descended the stairs to personally present a zucchetto, biretta and titular Church to newly appointed 68-year-old Cardinal Archbishop of Abidjan (Ivory Coast) Jean-Pierre Kutwa, who uses a wheelchair.
Cardinal Lacroix's roots were on full display on Saturday and may have in part influenced Pope Francis' presentation to him of the titular Church of San Giuseppe all'Aurelio, known in English as St. Joseph's. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Diocese of Manchester and all of Canada.
Realness is what Cardinal Lacroix is known for, and it was in full view following Saturday's celebration when family, friends, clergy and Canadian dignitaries descended en masse on the Canadian Pontifical College in Rome.
Approaching the entrance to the college, Cardinal Lacroix was greeted by nearly a dozen Roman children who were dangling out of their apartment windows with their parents, waving Vatican flags and chanting words of greeting. Visibly moved, Lacroix and his family responded with giant waves. The new cardinal cheerfully greeted the children, delighting them by responding in Italian.
In the reception that followed at the college, dignitaries gave warm greetings and recognition to the new cardinal.
The Honorable Denis Lebel, Canadian minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs and minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Quebec, touchingly noted: "I asked Cardinal Lacroix's father what he is most proud of about his son. He told me: He loves everyone, and everyone loves him."
Raymond and Brigitte Lacroix of Manchester are Cardinal Lacroix's parents. As proud of the cardinal as they were, it was evident that he was even prouder of them. In heartfelt words that spanned three languages - French, English and Spanish - Cardinal Lacroix thanked the many family and friends who traveled from around the world to be with him. He asked for prayers for himself and the people of Quebec, alluding at one point to his growing concern over efforts to allow euthanasia within the Canadian province.
Lacroix was joined at his celebration by Cardinal Collins of Toronto, retired Cardinal Turcotte of Montreal, and Vatican "kingmaker'' Cardinal Ouellet, formerly of Quebec and assigned to the Vatican as the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops. Cardinal Lacroix's warmest words were reserved for his mother and father, to whom he paid tribute and who sat front and center, glowing with a pride.
Cardinal Lacroix's parents will be front and center again next month in Manchester when their son celebrates the 4 p.m. Mass at their parish, St. Anthony of Padua on Belmont Street. The Mass, which will be celebrated March 22, will be open to the public and allow Granite Staters to join Bishop Libasci in welcoming home Cardinal Lacroix.
Prayers for Durkin
As night fell on Rome after a day of much celebration, the delegation from the Granite State was in shock after learning the tragic news of the death of John Durkin, a New Hampshire native and college student studying abroad in Rome. A day that began with prayer was also to end with prayer, as those from New Hampshire who gathered to celebrate with Cardinal Lacroix offered their prayers for the Durkin family during this time of incredible loss.