D.C. Archbishop Wuerl joined by 400 friends in Rome as he becomes a cardinal

For years, there have been rumors that Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was destined to become a cardinal. He is considered a leading teacher of Catholic doctrine and a diplomat on explosive social issues.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 12:05 AM

The archbishop's two brothers will be there. So will a rabbi he knows from Pittsburgh, the D.C. barber who cuts his hair and the fast-talking (and devoutly Catholic) television commentator Chris Matthews.

When Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl heads to Rome on Tuesday for the elaborate ceremony that will make him a cardinal, he will be trailed by a horde of family members, friends, priests and ordinary Catholics eager to watch him join the ranks of the church's most powerful men.

Wuerl's entourage numbers 405 - admiring participants who signed up for a pilgrimage that is part transcendent religious experience and part Catholic fiesta.

"In secular terms, it's like your team is going to the Super Bowl," explained Rocco Palmo, who blogs about insider Catholic Church issues.

And like the Super Bowl, attendance requires serious cash. Almost all the pilgrims are shelling out $2,200 to $5,300 of their own money to witness Wuerl's elevation Saturday to the elite College of Cardinals.

Kim Fiorentino is among those heading to Rome for six to eight days of pomp and pageantry. Fiorentino, a 49-year-old Potomac lawyer who belongs to one of Washington's most active Catholic groups, the John Carroll Society, said she expects to be spiritually transported by the rituals for which the church is so renowned.

"I'm hoping there will be tons of incense," she said. "I'm hoping the pope will have some red Prada [shoes] on, some ermine. No one does it like the Catholic Church."

The elevation ceremony at the Vatican, known as a consistory, will be presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, who selected the 24 men becoming cardinals. The red-hatted clerics elect new pontiffs, so they wield tremendous authority within the billion-member church.

For centuries, consistories were largely private affairs attended by elite church officials from around Italy. In recent decades, the gatherings have become one of Catholicism's biggest spectacles, with thousands of priests, nuns, big donors, Catholic activists, faithful parishioners and people who do business with the church flying in from all over the world.

For Catholics, they are powerful affairs, reminding many of the breadth and expansion of a faith that in the West can sometimes feel imperiled by secularism and clergy sex abuse scandals.

Pilgrimage logistics

In Washington, furious pilgrimage-planning began a month ago under the guidance of Guido Adelfio, a cheery Bethesda travel agent who was chosen by the archdiocese to organize the trip.

The logistics were daunting. Trying to accommodate the short notice, Thanksgiving week and different budgets, Adelfio crafted a complex matrix that involves 20 flights, nine hotels and five different itineraries. His plan also calls for tour leaders to wear baseball hats in Italy with an identifiable "W" - technically the logo for the Washington Nationals but for a few Roman afternoons representing Washington's newest cardinal.

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