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Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien will receive his pallium at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican tomorrow, a capstone event marking his connection to the Catholic hierarchy and to the church worldwide.
More than 100 Marylanders have traveled to Rome to attend the Mass tomorrow, where Pope Benedict XVI will confer the woolen stole to O'Brien and 42 other archbishops who were appointed after June 2007.
"It's a great symbol, a reminder for any Catholic of the part we all share in this historic church of ours, and the continuity of the church," O'Brien, 69, said in a telephone interview from Italy.
The pallium - a circular woolen scarf marked with black crosses - represents O'Brien's post as leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore - with limited authority over dioceses such as Wilmington, Del. and Wheeling, W.Va.
Archbishops wear the pallium on top of their vestments when celebrating Mass within their jurisdiction. The tradition dates to the fourth century. Only popes used to wear the pallium, as a sign of their authority, but then, in the fifth or sixth century, popes began giving them to archbishops, O'Brien said.
"It demonstrates pastoral authority and connection to the people he serves," said Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center, said each archbishop used to receive his pallium from the papal nuncio, or ambassador, in each country, or another papal representative.
"They would receive it from someone coming home from Rome," O'Brien said.
In 1984 Pope John Paul II started a tradition of giving the stoles to newly appointed bishops himself on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the Apostles.
"Coming to Rome, the feast of Peter & Paul, and receiving the pallium directly from the pope - all this symbolically emphasized the special relationship between the pope and the archbishop," Reese wrote in an e-mail.
This year, Pope Benedict will introduce a different pallium for himself, styled after a band used after the 10th or 11th century, according to the Zenit news service.
Archbishops usually request the pallium within three months of their consecration. When John Carroll, Baltimore's first archbishop, was appointed in 1808, intercontinental travel was complicated by the Napoleonic Wars, yellow fever and other difficulties, according to the archdiocese's Web site. He eventually received it in 1811.
This will be O'Brien's first pallium, although he was previously archbishop of military services. That was an honorary archbishop title, acknowledging the size of the military diocese rather than authority over other dioceses, O'Brien said.
Some Marylanders, including Cardinal William H. Keeler, are joining the archbishop in Rome to attend the celebration as part of a formal pilgrimage. They will attend Mass at different historic churches each day, including the four major basilicas.
The celebration there, with a reception afterward at the North American College, a seminary where O'Brien served as rector, is the capstone event of the new archbishop's appointment and installation.
During his nine months in the position, O'Brien said he's been collaborating with pastors and community leaders in the city of Baltimore to tamp down violence and strengthen the Catholic school system.
Encouraging young men to consider the priesthood has also been a focus. "I think everybody knows by now that's a very important theme of my time in Baltimore," O'Brien said.