Catholics from across the city and the surrounding areas gathered Wednesday afternoon at St. Patrick's Cathedral for the official installation of their new leader, Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Dolan, 59, was installed at the head of the nation's second-largest diocese just after 2:30 p.m. with the stamping of a letter written by Pope Benedict XVI.
The ceremony began around 1:30 p.m., as a procession of cardinals, bishops, and priests made its way through the main doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
During the cavalcade, Dolan stood outside the church on 51st Street, greeting both the religious officials and passersby.
A Mass immediately followed, which included a homily from Archbishop Dolan and prayers in nearly a dozen languages.
"Would you consider joining your new pastor on an adventure in fidelity as we turn the Staten Island Expressway, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, the FDR [Drive], the Major Deegan [Expressway], the New York State Thruway, into the 'Road to Emmaus,'" said the new archbishop. "And then we'll witness a real 'Miracle on 34th Street.'"
His words supported the church's pro-life stance and what he called "the sanctity of human life from the tiny baby in the womb" garnered the loudest and longest reaction.
But he wore a wide grin and strong sense of humor and told a joke at the expense of his attending mother.
"I am really relieved to see Mom. We were a little afraid she might not make it. She found out there was a sale on at Macy's," said Dolan.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor David Paterson, former Mayor Ed Koch, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, District Attorney Richard Brown, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the city police and fire commissioners were among the officials attending the ticketed event.
People who attended the crowded event praised Dolan.
"This was one of the most exhilarating, uplifting liturgy events that I have been to," said an attendee.
"I think the message was ideal for right now here in New York. We’re all together, we’re a family," said another. "We need to join together to protect the most helpless, from the poor to the unborn to marriage and family. It was just like one big family experience."
Dolan takes over for Edward Cardinal Egan, who was forced to retire two years ago at the age of 75, as the leader of 2.5 million Catholics in the counties of the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester.
Some parishioners attending early-morning Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral said they are very hopeful about the incoming archbishop.
"He just seems to have an infectious smile, a happy way about him and I think it's going to be uplifting to a lot of people in the city," said one churchgoer. "Not only Catholics who come here to see him, but I think the whole city is really going to enjoy him."
"He has to bring the Catholics back to the church. I think that's a really important part of his job," said another.
"He's not coming into the church at an easy time," said a third. "But we wish him the best and we're stepping in to pray for him."
Earlier in the day, the St. Louis native answered a bevy of questions at a news conference, touching on issues ranging including gay marriage, church attendance, and the city's immigrant community.
The installation rites began Tuesday night with Solemn Vespers and the incoming archbishop knocking on the doors of the cathedral. Dolan was welcomed inside by 77-year-old Edward Cardinal Egan.
It's the first time in the history of the New York Archdiocese that this ritual has taken place, because all the previous occupants have died in office.
In Dolan's first homily before his congregation, he stressed belief in the Catholic faith amid some of the challenges the church faces.
"There's sin and fear and sadness to keep us up closed up inside, evident in so many problems and worries," he said. "The scandal of clergy sexual abuse and caring for those hurt. The challenges of strengthening our parishes, schools and charitable outreach. The threats to marriage, family, to the unborn baby and the fragile the human life in all ages. The need for vocations. The list is long. The list is haunting."
Earlier this week, Dolan reintroduced himself to the New York media and welcomed his family to dinner at his new Midtown residence.
Dolan served as the leader of the Milwaukee Archdiocese for nearly eight years.
Over the next few days, the new archbishop will continue his busy schedule which includes an appearance at the Yankees home opener and a Catholic charities food program in the Bronx.