Baltimore's Cardinal Keeler eulogized as a 'wise and gentle pastor' at funeral

Cardinal William Henry Keeler, the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore, was eulogized as a "wise and gentle pastor" and an "indefatigable, friendly, never tiring man of faith" on Tuesday as hundreds of mourners marked his passing at a mass of Christian burial at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.

Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's official representative to the United States, commemorated the cardinal's gentle wisdom in a message from Pope Francis that he read to the estimated 1,400 people in attendance.

During his homily, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and a longtime friend of Keeler's, said that he never failed to live up to a favorite saying of another of Keeler's friends, Pope John II: "Love for Jesus and his church must be the passion of your life."

Said Dolan: "He knew the quote and radiated it."

Many of the state's civic leaders paid their respects at the service, including Gov. Larry Hogan, former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

The array of religious leaders in attendance reflected one of Keeler's strongest interests — outreach toward the members of other faiths.

Arthur Abramson, the former longtime executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, sat in the same section as the Most Rev. Constantine Moralis of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, the president of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation in Baltimore.

All had worked with Keeler on interfaith projects.

"I thank God that I was here to for the departure of this man of peace — a man of smiles toward all the creatures of the Almighty," Arafat said.

Six of the 17 U.S. cardinals also attended the funeral Mass, as did 30 bishops.

"I thought it was a beautiful service and an incredible sendoff for a wonderful man, a man of God, a man of faith who did so much for our community," Hogan said afterward. "I thought it was a fitting tribute to his life."

Added Mikulski: "I thought [the service] was edifying and inspirational and befitting of the cardinal," a man she said worked closely with the Maryland Congressional delegation for many years, especially on matters touching on education and social justice.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of mourners had braved intermittent drizzle and downpours to gather at the cathedral more than an hour before the start of the 2 p.m. funeral for Keeler.

Funeral officials bearing black umbrellas huddled around the late cardinal's hearse in the rain outside, and members of the Knight of Columbus Color Corps stood guard over the open casket of Keeler, who lay in repose, his bishop's crozier standing upright above his head.

As the cathedral bells sounded to signal the start of the Mass, though, the clouds parted outside the cathedral, giving way to a warming sun.

The rite began solemnly, with dozens of seminarians, deacons, priests and bishops filing down the center aisle and past Keeler's casket, by then closed and resting in the lower sanctuary.

Archbishop William E. Lori, serving as celebrant, greeted the crowd, making special note of more than 60 members of the cardinal's family and the array of Catholic mourners present, including representatives of the Diocese of Harrisburg, where Keeler was ordained a bishop in 1984, and 14 nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order that cared for the cardinal during his final months.

Dolan, a man with whom Keeler shared a love of church history, drew laughter when he opened his homily with an anecdote about his longtime mentor and friend.

Dolan was to welcome the cardinal for a visit to the Vatican, he recalled, but learned early in the day that Keeler's plane had been delayed. By the time he reached Rome, it was past midnight, 13 hours behind schedule, and everyone involved, including Dolan, was exhausted.

But a still-energetic Keeler insisted on holding a Mass — and visiting with Dolan afterward to share crackers, cold beer and stories about his challenging day.

That, Dolan said, was an example of the kind of energy Keeler brought to all his endeavors, whether it was spearheading the renovation of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore or reaching out to the Jewish community, always demonstrating "the excitement, eagerness and love for the work of the evangelist."

"Jesus and the church were the passion of his life," Dolan said again, repeating the words of Pope John Paul II he said Keeler always held close.

Rita Amrhein, a Eucharistic minister from Baltimore, said she came to pay her respects for a man who always displayed a common touch. While she never knew the cardinal personally, she said, she sent him a card for his birthday every March 4 — and always received a handwritten response.

"I never expected any acknowledgment, but he was just a man of such kindness," she said.

Thelma T. Daley, a former professor at Loyola University Maryland and vice chair of the National Council of Negro Women, carried a photo of herself taken with the cardinal when she was invited to his residence.

She travelled with Keeler to Rome in 2000 for the canonization of the American heiress and philanthropist Katharine Drexel, she said, and remembered the cardinal as a man "with a global sense of respecting diversity, a sense of inclusion and of lifting up others, of promoting them."

The funeral mass meant Keeler "is at peace, possibly reaching that cycle on his journey that he prepared himself for and prepared others for," said Daley, who lives in Baltimore.

Arafat said he would always remember the way Keeler "was so good at taking the first step" in reaching out to other communities — including the day of the 9/11 terror attacks, when he contacted Arafat to invite him to an interfaith service at the basilica he scheduled for the following day.

Arafat called the service "very impressive, very spiritual."

Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, the fifteenth archbishop of Baltimore and now the grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome, concluded the service with the Rite of Final Commendation, the last final rite prior to the removal of the body to its burial site.

The cardinal was entombed later Tuesday in the crypt below the altar at the basilica, becoming the ninth Archbishop of Baltimore to be buried there.

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