NEW YORK (AP) â€” Hundreds of people filed into St. Patrick's Cathedral early today for a final Mass to pay tribute to Cardinal John O'Connor before his funeral.
More mourners had gathered on the steps outside for a scheduled public viewing, but church officials abruptly canceled it and closed the church at 8 a.m. to give the Secret Service time to secure the area, archdioceses spokesman Joe Zwilling said.
President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton were among the dignitaries expected to attend the invitation-only funeral for the 80-year-old O'Connor, who died Wednesday of brain cancer.
``It was important for me to be here. I wanted to pray for him and let him know that he was very kind, good to the poor people, the Spanish people,'' Yolanda O. Velez said this morning after walking past the cardinal's body, lying in a velvet-lined coffin in the cathedral.
Others expected to attend the ceremony were Vice President Al Gore, former President George Bush, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and more than 100 bishops, archbishops and cardinals.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, was scheduled to celebrate O'Connor's funeral Mass. O'Connor was then to be interred in the crypt beneath the cathedral's altar, where all the previous archbishops of New York are buried.
Thousands of people already had come to bid farewell to O'Connor, many standing in lines while weekend temperatures rose to the low 90s.
``We celebrate his life today as we mourn his passing,'' said the Rev. John Ferry, who presided over a Mass on Sunday morning, the first of three ceremonies throughout the day.
Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, who heads the Catholic Archdiocese for the U.S. Military and was friends with O'Connor, led an afternoon Mass, discussing the ``earlier priestly works of Father John O'Connor.''
At a third Mass, close friend Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston thanked those in attendance, mentioning that O'Connor's family members ``are so consoled by the continual outpouring of the faithful here.''
That Mass was attended by cardinals from Cuba, Washington, D.C., and two from Rome, as well as Bishop Edward Michael Egan, 68 of Bridgeport, Conn., who is said to be a leading contender to replace O'Connor.
A relative of Egan's, Raymond Egan, told today's Daily News that Egan has already been appointed to the post. ``He asked us not to say anything because O'Connor was so very, very sick,'' he said. Egan could not be reached for comment by the newspaper.
Bishop Henry Mansell, 62, of Buffalo, N.Y., and O'Brien, 60, the military archbishop, also have been mentioned as possible successors.
During 16 years at the helm of the nation's most prominent Roman Catholic pulpit, O'Connor placed himself at the center of some of the country's most heated debates, angering many with his staunch support of the Catholic church's positions on abortion and homosexuality even as he charmed many critics with his warm wit.
``He'll be greatly missed,'' said Leo Gualtieri of the city's Queens borough. ``We hope the next cardinal will follow in his footsteps.''
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