New York’s Catholic faithful began paying their respects to Edward Cardinal Egan on Monday as the official farewell to the city’s ninth archbishop got underway.
Streaming steadily into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, they paused and prayed by the brown coffin bearing Egan’s body, which was flanked by an honor guard that included a police officer and a firefighter.
Among them was former Gov. George Pataki, who recalled how he and his daughter prayed with Egan on 9/11.
“The three of us went to one of the chapels on the side together and prayed,” he said. “His presence was a source of strength and a source of comfort to many great families during that terrible time.”
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano also came by. As did regular New Yorkers like Jose Gonzalez, whose eyes began to water when he caught sight of Egan, dressed all in white with a black rosary in his arms.
“It’s surreal because I met him once,” said Gonzalez, 62, of Manhattan, who was holding as proof a photo of himself with Egan. “He was a great man. My mother was sick and I asked him for a blessing. He was kind and did so.”
Altagracia Martinez, a 55-year-old grandmother from Queens, said “I knew I had to come here.”
“I used to enjoy his sermons here at the cathedral,” she said. “He’s now where he’s meant to be, with God, living with God’s eternal peace. We’ll miss him a lot.”
Andrea Paez, 50, another grandmother from the Astoria section, said Egan “did a lot for immigrants.”
“That’s what I’m going to remember about him,” she said. “He was also there for us with the Towers fell.”
Earlier, 60-year-old Gale Moorman was dismayed by the sparse the crowds were.
“I came here a little early to see what the scenario looked like,” said Moorman. “Maybe it’s too early. I don’t see a lot of people here.”
Marilyn Burnie, a 69-year-old British tourist, said Egan “probably had a good life.”
“I’m sure he’ll get VIP treatment when he gets to God’s lounge,” she said. “He’ll go to heaven, not me.”
Before the public was allowed inside, Timothy Cardinal Dolan welcomed Egan’s nephews and nieces and their families, plus his great nephews and nieces and their kin, to the cathedral for a private visitation.
Diocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling recalled his last chat with Egan less than 24 hours before he died Thursday.
“I asked him on Wednesday, ‘How are you feeling,’” he recalled. “He said, ‘Oh I feel fine. My legs don’t work anymore … doctors are telling me it’s the polio.’”
“And then he leaned over, almost conspiratorially, and said in a stage whisper, ‘I think I’m just getting old’.”
Egan, who was afflicted with polio has a child and relied on a pacemaker, died of cardiac arrest on Thursday. He was 82.
The wake for Egan resumes at 7 a.m. Tuesday before his funeral mass begins at 2 p.m. After that, he will be buried in the crypt beneath the cathedral’s high altar.