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Homily of farewell for Cardinal Bernardin

Msgr. Kenneth Velo, longtime aide and friend of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, was asked by the cardinal to deliver the homily at his funeral Mass. The following are excerpts from Velo's homily.

Whether you're in the first pew or the 30th pew of this great cathedral, whether you're participating through the public address system or seated in the auditorium, whether you're listening on the radio as you travel the Dan Ryan Expressway or sitting in a kitchen in Rogers Park, whether you're watching television coverage of this funeral service in a nursing home in Waukegan, a living room in Calumet City or a classroom on Chicago's West Side -- today, this day, you are all dignitaries, for God has touched you through the life of Cardinal Bernardin, and I greet you as family and friends.

Perhaps you're wondering who I am. Let me introduce myself in the way that Mrs. Bernardin, the cardinal's 92-year-old mother, knows me. I am Father Velo, the regular driver.

And one of the greatest compliments His Eminence paid me through the years was just to fall asleep in the car. He would travel the city's streets, sometimes make phone calls, but he would usually fall asleep toward the end of our journey.

I would say, "Cardinal, we're here. We've arrived." The comb would come out of the pocket and the event, the ceremony, the dinner, whatever, would begin, but not before he said to me, "Our objective is to get out of here as quickly as possible."

Somewhere over Greenland in mid-September, the Eminence showed me his funeral plans. I began to cry. I saw the things he had listed. I saw my name. I saw the name of Cardinal (Roger) Mahony, whom he asked to celebrate this Mass of Christian burial. ... As I cried, he said, "Don't worry. I have cried too." ...

Cardinal Bernardin was many things to people, but he was a teacher. He taught lessons of life, and I'd like to talk about Cardinal Bernardin in the context of one of his favorite prayers, a prayer he kept in the pocket of his suit and used at all sorts of different times. It was the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."

He brought people together. He worked hard at doing that. He had the gift of resilience. It was on a trip with some of his bishop friends when he took a moped. He went out. There was an accident. They found him in brambles and thorns with the wheels turning up and around, and he said, "I finally got the knack of it." ...

He was a man of humility. He told a story of being on vacation. He was far away from Chicago, dressed in casual clothes, walking the aisles of a grocery store to prepare for the evening meal. A man saw him. "Oh, I can't believe you're here. Do you have one minute to see my wife? She's in the parking lot, one minute."

The cardinal said, "He recognized me." He walked down the the aisle, walked through the grocery store turnstile. He walked into the parking lot. The man said, "My car is over there. There is my wife." He walked up to the car. The man said, "Helen, look who's here! Dr. Kresnick!"

People know him now. They know him now, and they loved him. ... To you, my brothers and sisters who are part of this great archdiocese, didn't he teach us? Didn't he show us the way?

He took hard stands ... nuclear disarmament, health care for the poor, racial injustice. He stood on the Capitol steps against partial-birth abortions. And in his last days, during his own suffering, he spoke out loud and clear to the Supreme Court about assisted suicide. Didn't he teach us? Didn't he show us the way? ...

Every day in the quiet of his chapel when we were privileged to celebrate the Eucharist, there was always one prayer. ... He prayed for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. There are many young boys and girls, men and women, who I'm sure are listening as we speak this very moment. You see how fulfilling and satisfying his life was and how yours could be as you offer your life and service to others. ...

He put himself into everything. ... He seldom said no. He would write thank you letters for thank you letters. He would give himself to priests and people. ...

Even when most people would have gone on disability after the news of cancer, our friend started a new ministry and reached out to cancer patients with notes and phone calls and visits and care. Priest once more, for he knew "it is in giving that we receive." ...

And who will ever be able to forget that false accusation? And let us never forget his forgiveness, the cardinal's forgiveness from the very first moment and that wonderful reconciliation, which he spoke of time and time again. For he knew that "it is in pardoning that we are pardoned."

I was with him in the examination room when he was told that he had an aggressive form of cancer. The doctor said it was most likely it would be his life-ending event. In those situations, he calmly dealt with this, for he was embracing a friend. Yes, he was embracing death as a friend, for he knew that it was "in dying that we have been born to eternal life."

I know there are many people watching, viewing, standing with us at this hour. But I ask you to allow me just a few words with the cardinal. You see, it's been a long, long and beautiful ride.

Cardinal, Eminence, you're home. You're home.

National Catholic Reporter, December 6, 1996