Cardinal James A. Hickey, who headed the Archdiocese of Washington for 20 years, was remembered during his funeral Mass yesterday as a passionate provider of services to the poor and a champion in the fight to eradicate prejudice and bias.
More than 2,000 mourners filled the majestic halls of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington to celebrate the cardinal's eternal life with Latin hymns, speeches and warm remembrances. The Mass of Christian Burial lasted just over two hours, with incense drifting at times over the congregants as they sang, prayed and reflected.
The casket of Cardinal James A. Hickey receives a final blessing with holy water by the celebrants at his funeral Mass.
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The service opened with a procession of more than 450 deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals who followed altar servers bearing incense and holding a crucifix and candles down the center aisle toward the main sanctuary. They were flanked by an honor guard of more than 40 Knights of Columbus in their ceremonial capes and white, purple, green and yellow plumed hats. The clergy -- including 48 bishops and six cardinals -- wore white, signifying Catholics' belief of a rebirth in heaven.
The priests who concelebrated the Mass included many who were ordained or studied under Hickey. It took more than 15 minutes for them to file by his closed mahogany coffin and kiss the altar of the basilica's main sanctuary.
Hickey, who was archbishop of Washington from 1980 to 2000, died last Sunday at 84 after a week-long bout with pneumonia and several years of declining health. He was the third leader of the archdiocese since it was separated from Baltimore in 1947; his predecessors were Cardinal Patrick A. O'Boyle, who died in 1987, and Cardinal William W. Baum, who works in Rome and attended the funeral as the pope's personal representative.
Although he shunned a high profile, Hickey nevertheless became one of the most influential behind-the-scenes leaders in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The archdiocese has more than a half-million Roman Catholics and encompasses the District and five Maryland counties.
Among the dignitaries in attendance were Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, several members of Congress, local and federal judges and members of the diplomatic corps representing foreign embassies.
"It's a sad day for Catholics and for the archdiocese," said Steele, who recalled working with the cardinal on commissions to improve services to the poor. "To work with him was an honor. I mourn him as a Catholic, and I wish him much peace."
Also in attendance were the cardinals, the highest-ranking clerics in the church after the pope. They included Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Cardinal Joseph Maida of Detroit and Cardinal Bernard F. Law, former archbishop of Boston.
Others at the service, such as Barbara Shaw, 55, a District resident who works for the D.C. Department of Human Services, had never met Hickey but had deep admiration for him and his life. She also attended a vigil Mass at the basilica Friday night.
"After somebody passes, you find out a lot you didn't know," Shaw said. She added that she did not know, for example, about the cardinal's dry sense of humor.
The coffin was closed shortly after 10 a.m. and covered with a white pall upon which was placed a wooden crucifix and the Book of Gospels. Hickey was dressed in a white miter and the same white vestments he wore when he was ordained a bishop in 1967. At his request, his hands were entwined with a green gemstone rosary that belonged to his mother and a ring given him by Pope John Paul II when he was elevated to cardinal.
The funeral was held at the basilica to accommodate the large number of mourners.
Speakers described Hickey in personal terms, recalling how he was always prepared, hated idling in traffic and relished the scones and homemade strawberry jelly prepared for him by members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of religious women who cared for the cardinal in his last year when he was living at Jeanne Jugan Residence, an assisted living facility in Northeast Washington.