ROME -- Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler, elated by the presence of more than 400 well-wishers from Maryland and Pennsylvania, flew here this morning to begin nearly a week of celebrations of his elevation to the College of Cardinals.
The eight-hour trip turned into a celebration over the Atlantic. The ,10l chartered Alitalia 747 brought two archbishops and 409 other pilgrims to Rome from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. About 30 more well-wishers came on other planes.
John Bellin of Reisterstown, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Glyndon, said he knew it would be only a matter of time before Pope John Paul II recognized Archbishop Keeler.
"We'd been hearing rumors that the pope would make Archbishop Keeler a cardinal," Mr. Bellin said, "but it came sooner than we expected. He's shown great leadership in Baltimore in his relations with other Christians and with the Jewish people."
At Saturday's public Vatican ceremony, Pope John Paul is to give the Baltimore archbishop and 29 other cardinals-designate their red birettas -- the hats that are a mark of their new rank.
Archbishop Keeler, 63, set the tone of festive informality on the crowded jumbo jet by strolling the aisles in a powder blue cardigan and open-necked white shirt, warmly greeting many friends from the Baltimore Archdiocese and from his former Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa.
Retired Baltimore Archbishop William D. Borders was also on the jet. After their arrival in Rome, he joined Archbishop Keeler, five other bishops and more than 70 priests at a Mass in the mammoth chapel of the Pontifical North American College, where Archbishop Keeler was once a seminary student.
Archbishop Borders, who is 81, preached on "The Mystery of Grace," which he said is the source of strength for today's Christians as it was for the early martyrs. He began his remarks by addressing Archbishop Keeler, who was attired in robes of brilliant red, as "Your Eminence," a title accorded cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.
Named archbishop of Baltimore in 1974, Archbishop Borders was succeeded by Archbishop Keeler in 1989.
At the conclusion of last night's Mass, Archbishop Keeler expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Borders for his presence and for his homily. The cardinal-designate also praised Archbishop Borders "for what he has meant to the life of the Archdiocese of Baltimore" and led the large congregation in prolonged applause.
Archbishop Keeler is the third cardinal in the more than two centuries of the Baltimore Archdiocese, the nation's first. The others were Cardinals James Gibbons, who presided from 1877 to 1921, and Lawrence Shehan, who headed the Baltimore Archdiocese from 1961 to 1974.
At least one well-wisher on the plane thought the rank of cardinal was not the highest that the Baltimore archbishop would attain.
"I expect someday he'll be the first pope from America. I just have that feeling. I was positive he'd be a cardinal," said John T. Homisak of Harrisburg, who was not only a member of Cardinal-designate Keeler's flock there but also his barber.
Mr. Homisak was one of 120 people from Pennsylvania on the plane, 85 from the Harrisburg Diocese.
Another was Adeline Smith, who said that for years Archbishop Keeler had attended Christmas Eve parties with her and relatives and friends. "We have had many good times together," Mrs. Smith said.
The party mood began while the members of the group waited to board the plane at BWI and was not marred by such minor incidents as rosaries setting off alarms during security checks.
Mary Elizabeth Sweeney, who was secretary to both Cardinal Shehan and Archbishop Borders, is one of five people on the trip who were also present in Rome when Cardinal Shehan received his red hat from Pope Paul VI in 1965.
The cardinal-designate's three sisters and a cousin were among the laity who participated at last night's Mass, carrying the bread and wine to the altar during the offertory.
The group accompanying Archbishop Keeler will attend a Mass today at Santa Maria in Trastevere, which was the titular church of Cardinal Gibbons.
Saturday's Consistory, at which the 30 new Cardinals will receive their red birettas, will take place in the large Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City. The Sistine Chapel, the traditional site of such ceremonies, is not big enough to accommodate all the people who plan to attend.
The other new cardinal from the United States is Archbishop Adam Maida of Detroit. Also among the 30 is Archbishop Miloslav Vlk of Prague, primate of the Czech Republic, who visited Baltimore's St. Alphonsus and St. Wenceslaus churches as a guest of the city's Czechoslovakian community in October 1992.
The ceremonies in Rome will continue Sunday with a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, at which Pope John Paul will preside and present each of the new cardinals with a ring.
Last night, Archbishop Keeler told the congregation from Maryland and Pennsylvania, "We set our hearts in touch with ancient times" -- hearts, he said, that are "weary from travel" but ,, "refreshed by the faith that God is near."