ROME -- When Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl arrived in Rome four days ago, his first stop was for prayer in the chapel in the North American College. Then he hurried to Barbiconi, the liturgical tailor's shop that he has used since he was a seminarian in the early 1960s.
His first tailor Gino Barbiconi, retired years ago. But when he heard that the archbishop of Washington needed scarlet vestments for today's consistory, when he will be elevated to cardinal, he came out of retirement to make them.
The old man said, "I did it when he became a priest, I did it when he became a bishop and I'm going to do it when he comes a cardinal," the cardinal-designate recounted.
He had sent his measurements from Washington, where he has been archbishop since 2006, after 18 years shepherding his native Diocese of Pittsburgh. He landed on Wednesday and by Thursday the scarlet cassock was hanging in his room at the North American College, the seminary where he stays when in Rome. It was his press secretary who dispelled a myth by counting the buttons. There weren't 33 -- the number of years that Jesus lived on earth -- but 28.
He has had two sets made, one to keep in Rome because their bulk can run up hefty baggage fees when he flies over for the many meetings cardinals are expected to attend. A full set of cardinal's vestments includes two cassocks. The scarlet one is for liturgical services, while a black cassock trimmed in scarlet piping is for meetings with the pope and other formal occasions. Most of the time, however, a cardinal wears a black suit and clerical collar, and is distinguished from a simple priest by the chain of his bishop's cross.
Until Pope Paul VI decreed greater simplicity in 1969, a cardinal's robes were far more lavish. Pope Paul eliminated the requirement that they be made of watered silk, permitting it only for trim and accessories. An immense cape was shortened to elbow length. An enormous, wide-brimmed scarlet hat has been reduced to a biretta, a small square hat often worn by Italian priests and bishops, but which is rarely seen in the United States.
"What the cardinals wear is a scarlet version of what bishops wear. There isn't a whole lot of difference any more," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the school of theology and religious studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
But the wide-brimmed hat, called a galero, lives on atop a prelate's coat of arms. It has three rows of tassels on each side for a bishop, four for an archbishop and five for a cardinal.
When the pope places the red biretta on the head of each new cardinal, he says its color "signifies that you are ready to act with fortitude even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church."
"I remember very clearly Pope Paul VI describing the College of Cardinals as those who have to be willing to give their lives for the church as did the early martyrs," Monsignor Irwin said. "I have to think that, historically, there are other reasons why scarlet was chosen as the color for cardinals. But the best recent explanations have been all about martyrdom."
That's not hypothetical, said Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphian whose blog on the Catholic hierarchy, Whispers in the Loggia, is read by some cardinals. At the last consistory in 2007, Pope Benedict highlighted the dangers that Christians face when he gave the red hat to Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Baghdad. The pope called it "a sign of the church's solidarity with suffering Iraqi people," Mr. Palmo said.
Patriarch Delly has stressed that Christians and Muslims both suffer from terrorism, saying, "a car bomb equally kills Muslims and Christians." But three weeks ago more than 50 people were massacred in his Baghdad cathedral.
At today's ceremony the cardinals will receive birettas from the pope, and each will be assigned a church in Rome. "They tend to give churches that need major renovations to the Europeans and Americans, who can get the job done," Mr. Palmo said.
The consistory doesn't include Eucharist. That comes at Sunday's "Ring Mass" when Pope Benedict will present each new cardinal with a ring of office. For centuries it was a sapphire ring with the coat of arms of the pope and of the new cardinal. But that also changed after Vatican II.
"Pope Paul VI had a great affinity for modern art. He changed the design to a modern-style engraving of the crucifixion, with Mary and St. John at the foot of the cross," Mr. Palmo said.
It will replace the bishop's ring that by-then-Cardinal Wuerl inherited from his mentor, Cardinal John Wright, who died in 1978. Pope Paul had presented it to then-Bishop Wright of Pittsburgh at Vatican II.
"It's in the form of a miter, with Christ in the center and Peter and Paul on either side. I have worn this every day since I was ordained a bishop 25 years ago. I will exchange it on Sunday," he said.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com . First Published November 20, 2010 5:00 AM