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Baltimore Catholics celebrate 225th anniversary of nation's oldest archdiocese

Diego Niño, of Pikesville, with his daughters, Chiaru, left, and Liliana Niño, at the Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate the 225th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
Diego Niño, of Pikesville, with his daughters, Chiaru, left, and Liliana Niño, at the Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate the 225th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Two thousand Roman Catholics converged on Baltimore Sunday for a special All Souls' Day Mass celebrating the 225th anniversary of the archdiocese where American Catholicism was born.

The service brought formal written congratulations from Pope Francis, more than 100 Knights of Columbus in their formal tuxedos and capes, and dozens of people singing and dancing to hymns in a circle on the lawn in front of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore.

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Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who led the Mass, pointed out in his homily that All Souls' Day is "not usually a day to break out the champagne," as it's dedicated to remembering the dead. But he gave a brief history of the archdiocese dating to its founding by John Carroll on Nov. 6, 1789, and combined a remembrance of his many archbishop predecessors with an appreciation of the community that has sustained the Catholic church in the city for more than two centuries.

"It is pre-eminently a day of hope ... to remember those who have gone before us, hopeful of immortality," he said, adding that it serves as a call for Catholics "to become the people God calls us to be."

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"The intrepid faith of those who went before us calls us to the mission of evangelicalization," Lori said.

Carroll, Baltimore's first archbishop, faced an "uphill climb" in trying to develop a foothold for the church in the U.S., Lori said. Only one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence — a relative of Carroll's, Charles Carroll of Carrollton — was Catholic, so the church didn't have the foundation others enjoyed in the Colonial era, he said.

"He had to organize the church of America from the ground up," Lori said. "At that time, there were 2,500 Catholics, few priests and churches, with little or no financial support."

When Carroll died, the church had gained about 160,000 members in the U.S., and its roots had been planted "firmly in place," Lori said. "He built better than he knew."

Lori highlighted the contributions of Baltimore's network of Catholic schools, hospitals and charities and thanked various religious orders and the millions of other Baltimoreans who have helped it thrive. He touched only briefly on the political role the church has taken on controversial social topics.

"It's a history written by laymen and women," he said, "in the homes ... in the workplace and in the ballot box."

Amid the clanging church bells, organ music coming from inside the cathedral, and guitars and hand drums on the lawn, a loud cheer came from a small group of women who smiled and hugged Lori at the top of the steps when he emerged at the end of the Mass.

Members of the Catholic Women's Association of Cameroon excitedly posed for a picture with the archbishop, who obliged before greeting hundreds of others on the sidewalk.

"This means everything to us," said Ruth Vinga, 43. "Especially as immigrant women, as Catholic women, it has inspired all of us and our devotion."

Vinga said the group's members live locally but keep in touch with their relatives in their home country: "Cameroon is going to hear about this."

Katie Norden, a senior at St. Mark School in Catonsville, was picked by her principal to hold one of the large white banners representing the area's many Catholic schools, her mother, Fran Norden said.

Fran Norden said she hadn't worshipped at the North Baltimore cathedral in 20 years, but the whole family made the trip, excited to witness the event.

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"It's history," she said. "All the pomp and circumstance — this is what Catholicism is about. It was really fun to be a regular person in there."

The standing-room-only crowd of roughly 2,000 who packed into the cathedral for the Mass was among the largest gatherings its sacristan had ever seen.

"I've been here 43 years," Thaddeus Warszawski said. "This is a big one."

Francisco Rodriguez, 23, brought his violin from Hyattsville for the festivities outside. The seminarian in the Diocese of Washington also took the opportunity to share his religious journey with others.

"I want to give thanks for Catholicism in the USA," Rodriguez said. "We're here to dance and sing and to bring the joy that God has given to us."

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