WASHINGTON, D.C., MAR. 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- It was Happy Hour at Lulu's, a downtown bar. The place was thick with people and cigarette smoke. Beer mug in hand, secretary Sheila Johnson was just beginning to sink into the mood.
Then she turned around and saw the silver-haired man in black, with the cleric's collar: His Eminence, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. She wasn't the only one to do a quick double-take, the Associated Press reports.
"You have to go where the people are," Cardinal McCarrick, 70, said over the blare of pop music and bar chatter. "Many of these people are probably saints. If I were holier, I might be able to tell you which.''
Cardinal McCarrick made a statement about his personal theology Tuesday night, becoming one of the first cardinals in recent memory to take part in a Catholic outreach program called Theology on Tap, AP said. The 20-year-old program puts priests in bars and invites Catholics and non-Catholics alike to relax and listen to a short sermon.
Few, if any, cardinals have ever spoken at the event, according to the Archdiocese of Washington.
Some regular patrons, like Johnson, found Cardinal McCarrick's presence disconcerting. "This is a bar. I'm Catholic, but I don't come here for religion,'' she joked.
The cardinal made only a brief stop at Lulu's main bar before heading into a room crowded with about 500 young Catholics, drinking beer and ready to listen. A few non-Catholic patrons wandered in to listen as well.
The sermon was riddled with jokes and a few personal revelations. Apparently, Cardinal McCarrick was thrown out of high school for disciplinary reasons. And when he was about to be given his commission by John Paul II last month in Rome he was thinking, "I hope I don't trip.''
But the sermon also had its serious moments. "You have to make the effort to take control of your life and make sure that you are becoming all that God wants you to be, all that you can be,'' Cardinal McCarrick said. "It is possible to rush through all of this and end up with nothing.''
Those who came to see Cardinal McCarrick speak didn't find the setting to be a distraction. "Catholics don't have this whole aversion to alcohol,'' said Monica Miller, 27, a graduate student at Georgetown University. "So it is natural for people to meet over a few drinks and talk about God.''
Still, Cardinal McCarrick says he realizes some Catholics might not approve of a cardinal preaching in a bar. "I could understand their concern, but to the average person, rank doesn't mean anything,'' he said. "We need to be about spreading the good news of our Lord and Savior. The good news is that God wants to walk with you, wants to love you, every single day.''