NEW YORK — Catholic Extension named New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan as the recipient of its seventh annual Spirit of Francis Award for his solidarity with the Catholic Church in Cuba and his “advocacy for the weak and marginalized.”
Both qualities are central to the mission of Extension, a Chicago-based papal mission society, said a news release about the award.
The cardinal was honored at a dinner Nov. 30 at the Metropolitan Club in New York City, hosted by Father Jack Wall and Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Extension’s president and chancellor, respectively.
Attendees at the dinner included Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of New York City’s Park East Synagogue and internationally known for his activism on human rights and religious freedom; and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States.
Honorary co-chairs were Jesuit Father Joseph M. McShane, president of Fordham University, and Dr. Ramon Tallaj, chairman and founder of the SOMOS Community Care network of 2,500 health care providers in New York City’s boroughs.
In his remarks, Cardinal Cupich reflected on the three “Francis” namesakes who, together, are the inspiration for the award — St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and Father Francis Clement Kelley, the founder of Catholic Extension.
Each one, he said, embodies a commitment “to reach out to the margins of society,” a trait that Cardinal Dolan has modeled throughout his ministry, as priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal.
Cardinal Cupich and Cardinal Dolan have been friends for nearly 50 years, having met for the first time in Rome.
“I was always taken by not only his quick wit but also his voice for the weak, the marginalized and those in need,” the Chicago prelate said.
In presenting the award, Father Wall called Cardinal Dolan a longtime and honored friend to Catholic Extension.
“Thank you for always espousing the cause of Catholic Extension to work in solidarity with people to build up vibrant and transformative faith communities,” he said. “And thank you for being a friend to the Catholic Church in Cuba.”
Since 2016, Catholic Extension has made a commitment to help the Cuban Catholic Church with the goal of rebuilding 100 churches throughout the island, which have been in disrepair for decades.
To date, Catholic Extension has committed to 44 building projects in all 11 dioceses, of which 27 are already complete, and proceeds from the Spirit of Francis Award dinner benefited this Cuba initiative.
Beginning in 2017, with export/import permission of both the United States and Cuban governments, Catholic Extension also has organized large-quantity shipments of medical supplies to Cuba, which have benefited more than 10,000 people in need. These shipments are coordinated through Cáritas Cuba.
“This Spirit of Francis Award and what it stands for means a lot to me,” Cardinal Dolan said in accepting the honor. “Pope Francis reminds us that everyplace is a mission country. Francis Clement Kelley realized that and we are all beneficiaries of that fortitude.
“People look to the church for basic necessities and Catholic Extension has not let them down.”
In February 2020, Cardinal Dolan made a six-day pastoral visit to Cuba with a small delegation from the New York area. During the trip, he met with church leaders, including Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibáñez of Santiago, Cardinal Juan García Rodriguez of Havana and other bishops. He had a private meeting with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez in Havana.
He also visited facilities where Catholics, including many women religious, help the poor and sick, as well as churches large and small spread throughout the island and, in many cases, staffed by Catholics from abroad serving there.
Cardinal Dolan also celebrated Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the patroness of Cuba, near Santiago.