Newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Wednesday that his new status was unimportant compared to the plight of poverty-stricken New Yorkers.
"The fact that I'm wearing red amounts to a hill of beans," Dolan said as he distributed bags of food to the hungry at St. Francis Assisi church in Manhattan on his first full day at home since returning from Rome. He was referring to the red hats and vestments worn by cardinals.
He later celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, his first since becoming cardinal of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese. Several hundred people packed the church to hear the Mass or receive Lenten ashes. The day marked Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season.
Dolan was among 22 Catholic churchmen who were elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Saturday.
"I think he's a great person," said Jeanne Howard of Manhattan as she waited for eight relatives from Massachusetts to attend the noontime Mass at St. Patrick's.
She said Dolan's predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, "was a nice person but he just didn't have a New York personality — you know, outgoing and friendly."
She said she felt Dolan's new status as cardinal was "prestigious."
"It's all a plus," Howard added.
The brief Mass — about a half hour — ended with applause from worshipers.
Dolan marked some of them with the Lenten ashes as they came forward.
Instead of cardinal red, he wore purple vestments, a color that symbolizes the pain and suffering of Christ in the Bible.
Melissa Hawkes of Gorham, Maine, stood on the steps with her 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son taking in the growing crowd outside the church before the start of the Mass.
"We're here for the experience," she said. "It's a social experience and people come for the community."
Cardinals are the pope's top advisers. They are the elite group of churchmen who will eventually elect Benedict's successor.