In his first hours as the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan waved and smiled and hugged hundreds of people and affirmed his deep faith in the teachings of the church.
His sense of humor and easy manner radiated from the sidewalk in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral to the altar inside. And, at a news conference just before today's ceremonies began, his personality lit up the room.
He said hello to each of the gathered reporters. He wanted to know where we were from. He chatted about the New York baseball teams, how much he liked his new city and how much he liked being with us. But he was still loyal, after a fashion, to the Milwaukee Brewers.
When we started to ply him with questions, New York style, he proved to be nimble and cool. When I asked him if he hoped to use his new position as a "bully pulpit" to deal with political and social issues as an advocate, he sidestepped, saying he didn't like the idea of "bullying." He granted that, when Teddy Roosevelt used the term, he wasn't talking about bullying but rather about the fun of having a platform from which to talk.
He sidestepped the follow-up question, which was how he felt about Gov. Paterson's advocacy of gay marriage. He deflected the question, saying his position was well known. He's made it clear in the past -- he's against legalizing same-sex marriages. Paterson is expected to introduce a bill Thursday to make gay marriage legal.
It was clear that the new archbishop wasn't ready to take on the proponents of gay marriage -- not yet, not on the first day of his new position. Yet the fact that he felt comfortable in having a news conference even before he was officially installed indicates he's not afraid of dealing with tough issues or tough questions.
At the installation ceremony, New York's new Catholic leader was basically serious, but couldn't resist making a joke about his mother, who he said was sitting in the audience. He was glad she hadn't been tempted to miss the ceremony to go to a sale at Macy's. This was said with a big grin directed at Mrs. Dolan sitting in a front pew. She smiled back.
In his homily in the Cathedral, Dolan spoke of the beauty of the Catholic religion, about God's love for us, as he put it. He spoke of the need to help the hungry, the homeless and immigrants.
A crescendo of applause rose up from the congregation when he spoke of the sanctity of human life. The ovation continued -- the congregation stood -- as Dolan denounced abortion, saying the church was a "protective mama bear when the life of her helpless cub is threatened."
At the end, New York's new archbishop, clutching his gold bishop staff, had a smile on his face, shaking the hands of political and lay leaders, and the others who came to the Cathedral to bear witness. The grin on his face didn't disappear as he reached the street.
This is a man who enjoys meeting people, greeting people and letting them know he cares. Timothy Dolan relished every moment Wednesday, from the time he left the altar to when, arms outstretched, he reached the people waiting on Fifth Avenue for a glimpse of the church's new leader. It was a warm moment for everyone.