By Harry Keaney
Cardinal John O’Connor of New York was presented Monday with copies of the legislation, which President Clinton signed on Sunday, awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s highest civilian honor.
The legislation was rushed through Congress last week.
Although the cardinal, who underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor last August, is visibly weak and bloated in appearance, he nevertheless was able to accept the award from Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Vito Fossella during a private meeting, according to his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling.
Zwilling told the Echo he did not know when the medal itself would be presented. "It has to be struck yet," he pointed out.
"For more than 50 years, Cardinal O’Connor has served the Catholic church and our nation with constancy and commitment," the president said in a statement.
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O’Connor is the 251st recipient of the medal. Past recipients have included Mother Teresa and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
For more than two weeks, the cardinal, who is 80, has been battling weakness. The cardinal’s eyesight has deteriorated and sometimes he has difficulty hearing.
But on Sunday, he attended Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, raising hopes that he may yet be able to attend Mass on St. Patrick’s Day and, perhaps, view the parade from the cathedral steps, a tradition he has adhered to for the last 15 years.
In the cathedral on Sunday, O’Connor walked slowly and used a cane. He did not deliver a homily but briefly addressed those in attendance.
The main concelebrant of the Mass was Bishop William McCormack, an auxiliary bishop.
As the cardinal left the altar, those in the cathedral broke into resounding applause.
The week before, the cardinal missed the Sunday Mass in the cathedral.
Last Thursday, O’Connor met with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The mayor had called the cardinal’s office and asked if he could drop by for a visit. The two met for about 15 minutes in the cardinal’s residence.
And on Friday, the cardinal attended a two-hour meeting in his office.
The Vatican is expected to announce soon a successor to the cardinal as archbishop of New York.