Cardinal Virtues

As usual, there were many amusing and moving story lines at the recent consistory for the creation of 23 new cardinals, all of which got ample play elsewhere. Most poignant had to be the elevation of the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad, Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly.  The personal favorite for the media had to be the elevation of Cardinal John Foley, longtime head of the Vatican Council on Social Communications. Cardinal Foley is a very pastoral man, and very approachable and very funny--virtues not always associated with hierarchs in the Curia, were Foley has served for more than two decades. Little did I know that he may have owed some of his humor to, of all people, his old school chum comedian Henry Gibson (no relation, no way, no how), as this CNS story recounts.

Cardinal Foley has also been a journalist, among his various incarnations, hence his interest and interaction with the media. But until CNS wrote it up, I'd never heard this story (I'm probably the only one who hasn't), recounted by Foley's former colleague Joe Ryan, currently the assistant editor at the diocesan newspaper of Wilmington, Del. It's about a trip Foley, then a young priest and editor of the Philadelphia archdiocesan paper, took to the Holy Land with Cardinal Krol:

Philadelphias Cardinal John Krol was touring the Holy Land in the early 1970s when he went to Egypt and visited the pyramids at Giza. Like many tourists there, the distinguished prelate was invited by a persistent hawker to ride a camel.

The cardinal asked the editor of his newspaper, The Catholic Standard and Times, if he thought he should get on the camel.

No, your eminence, said Msgr. John P. Foley. I would advise you not to get on that camel.

Cardinal Krol, caught between a beckoning Bedouin and his dubious priest-editor, decided his opportunities in life to ride a camel would be limited, so up he climbed.

Msgr. Foley promptly took his bosss picture, which ran in Catholic newspapers around the world. It showed the Archbishop of Philadelphia, ungainly in the camels saddle, looking more like the former butcher from Cleveland he had been than Lawrence of Arabia.

You told me not to get on the camel; why did you take my picture? the cardinal asked the editor.

As your loyal priest, your eminence, I gave you my best advice, Msgr. Foley said. As the editor of your newspaper, I took your picture.

I've always considered religious life and journalism as profoundly analogous callings, but vocations which could not coexist within the same soul. Perhaps that's not quite true.   

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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