Priest phones home from Rome

An auditorium filled with about 500 children, nearly all dressed in red, suddenly grew quiet when the call came. The Rev. Joseph F. Barr was communicating via Skype from a sunny St. Peter's Square in Rome. He smiled broadly from a screen set up in the auditorium of Immaculate Conception School in Towson.

Barr and other Baltimore-area Catholics traveled this week to Italy to witness the elevation ofArchbishop Edwin F. O'Briento the rank of cardinal.

"It is so good to hear your voices," Barr told the children.

Barr described his surroundings, pointing to the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the windows of the papal apartments from which Pope Benedict XVI frequently appears to bless crowds.

"I have seen pictures of Rome, but this is really great to see our priest there and seeing all of it live," said Emily Moore, an eighth-grader.

Principal Madeline Meaney said school officials learned only Thursday that Barr would be able to contact them. They tested the system early Friday morning and waited with the children for the call.

"We are getting to see our pastor in Rome," she said. "How small the world has become!"

Several children had prepared questions for Barr. Would he get to meet the pope? Barr said he did not expect a private audience but was assured that he and others would see the pope.

Why do cardinals wear red? It has traditionally signified a priest's willingness to shed his blood for his faith, Barr replied. In the elevation ceremony scheduled Saturday, O'Brien and 21 others will receive the red beretta or hat and the ruby ring.

What does a cardinal do? He gives advice to the pope and, as a member of the College of Cardinals, votes for the papal successor, Barr said.

Kindergartener Jack Donahue, the youngest questioner, wanted to know what a cardinal is. The name comes from "cardo," a Latin word for hinge. "The cardinals are the hinges for the church," Barr said.

Fourth-grader Ryan Eby wanted to know whether O'Brien, who has visited Immaculate Conception, will ever return to Baltimore.

"He will travel around the world," Barr said. "But he will visit Baltimore, too."

O'Brien has been splitting his time between Baltimore and Rome since he was named Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in August. The predominantly lay order, which dates to the Crusades, ministers to Christians and those of other faiths in historical Palestine.

O'Brien has said that until his successor is named by the pope, Baltimore-area Catholics will remain his "main preoccupation."

At the end of the call, Barr passed the microphone to Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Caine's trip to Rome meant missing the 7th birthday of his youngest daughter, Lucy. But his three daughters attend Immaculate Conception, so he was able to offer Lucy personal birthday greetings from the Vatican and say hello to his other daughters.

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