A Rather Arresting Vocation
On security detail with Lech Wałęsa, the Polish politician, trade-union organizer, and human-rights activist.
Here he is helping to protect the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Here he is with the late Nelson Mandela, leader of South Africa.
Yes, that's Mother Teresa.
Cardone with President Bill Clinton during Cardone's time with the State Department.
While providing security to a U.S. diplomat, Cardone found himself before Pope John Paul II in his private study in the Vatican.
At age 9 he was altar boy with an inkling he might be called to the priesthood. But he chickened out.
He would opt instead for a career that demanded less courage than the priesthood: a New York City cop, chasing murderers, thieves, and sexual predators; then a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), chasing gunrunners and counterfeiters; then a special agent for the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), protecting politicians, diplomats, and embassies in far-flung, war-torn places such as Beirut and Sarajevo, rubbing elbows with Yasser Arafat and Serbian war criminals.
Clearly, courage is in the eye of the beholder.
Altar boy Anthony Cardone, Officer Anthony Cardone, Special Agent Anthony Cardone — together, they finally summoned the courage three years ago to become the man you see today: Fr. Anthony Cardone, 61, associate pastor of St. Raphael Church in East Meadow, N.Y.
A self-described "spoiled child of the Blessed Mother," Fr. Anthony speaks in the no-nonsense, street-wise, Italian-American dialect of his native New York City, where tomorrow is te-ma-ro and talk is tolk, and when it's time to go, then get-outa-hea.
He could tolk tuff with the best of them, but always with an eye on te-ma-ro and the possibility that criminals become better people and sinners become saints.
"If you're in law enforcement, you can't be a wimp out on the street," he says. "If you're a wimp, they'll walk all over you. But I would really feel compassion for [criminals]. You worry about them. You pray for those you arrested."
Steve Liantonio, one of his partners on the New York City Police Department, says Cardone had a knack for getting things done peacefully. "I used to joke that he was connected. It was amazing how things just happened for him."
Turns out, the priesthood is a natural progression from a career in law enforcement. (Getting a confession out of people is certainly an easier endeavor.)
"When I was a cop," he says, "I protected people and saved people, and now, through God's grace, I'm trying to save souls. I'm doing the same thing, only at the ultimate level. Battling evil — same thing as when I was a cop."
But summoning the courage for the priesthood first required falling into deep despair. Before he became Fr. Anthony he was a lower-case "father," in his early 30s, and his marriage had fallen apart. He has always maintained a close relationship with his daughter, who is now in her twenties. But the divorce was bitter. In the midst of the worse period of his life, he came upon the Diary of St. Faustina, which comforted him and kept him spiritually balanced.
It helped him realize more than ever how God loves us in a personal way.
"He is really present and active in our lives,"
"I know life is painful and people suffer and there's human weakness," he says, "but Jesus wants people to trust in God and seek forgiveness. This is the message in the Diary. With God's mercy all things are possible." (Nowadays, he hands out copies of the Diary to those he meets who seem to need it most.)
From that point on, God seemed intent on drawing him closer.
Stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in the early 1990s, he was confined in a compound surrounded by razor wire and not permitted to attend Mass for fear of being kidnapped or killed. Outside his bedroom window, he could see a statue of Our Lady on the other side of the razor wire.
"Mary," he prayed, "I can't be without your Son. Help!" A few days later, he was informed there was someone at the gate looking for him. It was a Capuchin priest who said to him, "I hear you want Mass."
"He came and said Mass almost everyday for me," Fr. Anthony recalls. "The Blessed Mother did that for me. The priest grew up in Nazareth. Mary wanted me to know she did this for me by sending a priest from her hometown."
Later on, while providing security to a U.S. diplomat, Cardone found himself before Pope John Paul II in his private study in the Vatican. Not one to let a good opportunity go by, Cardone promptly displayed to the Pontiff the Miraculous Medal his parents had given him upon receiving his Confirmation. Pope John Paul blessed it.
Again, not wishing to let a good opportunity get by, Agent Cardone would later give that Medal to Radovan Karadžić, the so-called "Butcher of Bosnia" who was accused of war crimes, including genocide committed against Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian War (1992-95). Cardone had been providing security for Karadžić during a visit to the United Nations in New York City.
"He was so repulsive that my fellow agents and police hated to be near him, but we had a duty to protect, and we did it to the best of our ability," he recalls. "As I provided protection for this man, I prayed for him. I boarded his plane on his departure and was alone with him in the cabin. This strong feeling came over me to give him this beautiful special Miraculous Medal. I said to him, 'Sir, I will give you something that has protected me my whole life if you will wear it.' To my surprise, he said 'yes.' I took off the Miraculous Medal from around my neck and placed it around his neck. Believe it or not, this war criminal became emotional, with tears in his eyes."
He recalls, "I told my mom what I did, and she said, 'You did what!'"
"I believe that Jesus' love, through the Blessed Mother, through the prayers of Pope John Paul, touched this man that day," Fr. Anthony says. "Shortly thereafter, he relinquished his power, and went into hiding. Ironically, before he was found and imprisoned, rumor had it that for a time that he was hiding in a monastery. You see, Jesus is always seeking us out."
Clearly, Jesus was seeking out Agent Cardone, too. Following his retirement in 2006, and having had his marriage annulled, he joined the seminary and was ordained a priest in May 2011.
"So here's the good part," he says. "My former wife came to my ordination. She gave me my vestments! Is that great or whut?"