Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, gives the homily as he celebrates Mass as he takes possession of his titular church of St. Sebastian on the Palatine Hill in Rome Oct. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
With prayers for Holy Land, cardinal takes possession of titular church
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
ROME - In a tiny 10th-century Rome church honoring the martyr St. Sebastian, U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien offered special prayers for the "suffering Christian Palestine" and for all Christians to have courage in the face of persecution.
The cardinal, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, formally took possession Oct. 25 of the Church of St. Sebastian on the Palatine Hill, the Rome church he was assigned when he became a cardinal in February.
"Sebastian was a Roman soldier who was tortured for the faith, hands at his back and tied to a stake, his body shot through with arrows -- a favorite portrait for medieval artists," the cardinal said in his homily.
"In a bit of ecclesial irony, by the way, St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers," he told the congregation, which included knights and dames of the Holy Sepulcher, dressed in their capes emblazoned with the red Jerusalem Cross. "Whether by the grace of God or poor marksmanship, he survived the assaults but was later clubbed to death and buried not far from here," he added.
Cardinal O'Brien, the former archbishop of Baltimore, chose Mass prayers and readings from the votive Mass of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, patroness of the Holy Sepulcher order, which supports Catholics in the Holy Land through prayers, financial offerings and regular pilgrimages.
Concelebrating the Mass with Cardinal O'Brien were Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem; Archbishop Giuseppe De Andrea, assessor of the order; and Canadian Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, grand prior of the order's Quebec lieutenancy.
Cardinal O'Brien said the order's members are "honor guards for the care of the Holy Sepulcher, defending Christ's empty tomb no longer with the force of arms, but rather by their constant witness of faith."
The prayer intentions for the Mass reflected the pastoral concerns of Cardinal O'Brien's decades of ministry. There were prayers for the church, for Pope Benedict XVI and for the knights, but there also were prayers "for men and women in uniform" working to preserve peace -- a prayer reflecting his years as a military chaplain and then as head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. In addition, there were prayers for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, a reflection of his service as a seminary rector in Rome and in New York.
Taking possession of the Church of St. Sebastian, Cardinal O'Brien symbolically became a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome, whose pastors once elected their bishop, the pope.
With extra chairs placed in the sanctuary for concelebrating priests, and chairs added in front of and behind the 12 mini-pews, the church held 90 people.
Currently run by the Franciscans, the church -- built on the site of ancient Rome's Temple of the Unconquered Sun -- stands amid the ruins of imperial Roman residences on the Palatine Hill overlooking the Forum and Colosseum. Stone markers inside the church commemorate two conclaves held there: the 1057 conclave that elected Pope Stephen IX and the 1118 election of Pope Gelasius II.
For more information on the titular church: http://www.catholicreview.org/article/faith/celebrating-cardinal-o-brien/cardinal-s-titular-church-honors-martyr
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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