Visitors from U.S. celebrate Rome, Baltimore links


ROME -- Unaccustomed to being far from home on Thanksgiving Day, friends and admirers of Cardinal-designate William H. Keeler celebrated the historical links between Rome and Baltimore with him here yesterday.

"Happy Thanksgiving to all of you," said Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop William C. Newman as he began his homily during a Mass for the Americans at the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Nearly 450 people have accompanied Archbishop Keeler to take part in events this week related to Pope John Paul II's elevation of the Baltimore archbishop to the rank of cardinal.

Archbishop Keeler is one of 30 prelates from around the world chosen by the pope for this honor. The ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall.

Before the collection, Archbishop Keeler urged the visitors from Maryland and Pennsylvania to be generous, noting that the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere operates the largest soup kitchen in Rome.

"In Baltimore, we have Our Daily Bread," the archbishop quipped. "We could call this Our Daily Pasta."

Founded in the third century and rebuilt in the 12th, this landmark became the titular church -- the honorary Roman parish -- of Baltimore Archbishop James Gibbons when he was named a cardinal in 1886.

While Americans sometimes hear that when in Rome they should do what Romans do, Bishop Newman said, "We pilgrims, having traveled in reverse from the New World to the Old, should retain on Thanksgiving Day our own noble local traditions."

Among the gifts to be thankful for, he said, was the way Baltimore's new cardinal is "turning a personal honor into a corporate grace."

Sister Rosemarie Nassif, the president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, read Old and New Testament scriptures during the Thanksgiving Mass, including St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians telling them, "I never stop thanking God for you."

Welcoming the congregation led by Archbishop Keeler and retired Archbishop William D. Borders to the church, its rector, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, described plans to erect beneath its lofty mosaics a monument containing images of Cardinal Gibbons and his cathedral in downtown Baltimore, the Basilica of the Assumption.

During the Mass, Bishop Newman recalled that Cardinal Gibbons had preached a famous sermon from the pulpit of Santa Maria in Trastevere in 1886, in which the cardinal "sang the praises of his native land of the United States" and told how in such a free country the state and religion can exist side by side without interference.

"This sermon catapulted the ninth archbishop of Baltimore into international ecclesiastical prominence," Bishop Newman said.

The bishop also told of a meeting six years ago between Archbishop Borders and Pope John Paul, at which the archbishop invited the pope to go to Baltimore for the celebration of the bicentennial of the Catholic Church in the United States.

It was an invitation the pope said he was unable to accept.

According to Bishop Newman, the pope responded, "Bicentennial? Two hundred years? Not very many!"

Among those attending the Mass were five of Archbishop Keeler's former classmates at Lebanon Catholic High School in Lebanon, Pa. They are in a group of 45 people here from the Lebanon area, who include Robert H. Mason and his wife, Elizabeth.

"I'm going to have pizza instead of turkey today, but it's a fabulous trip," Mr. Mason said after the Thanksgiving Mass.

Rosewin Sweeney and her husband, Jack, members of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen parish in Baltimore, said they were not sure what they and a group of friends would have for Thanksgiving dinner, but it probably would not be pizza.

"I've never been out of my country on Thanksgiving Day," Mrs. Sweeney said a little wistfully, but she added that "an occasion like this" is a good reason to make an exception.

The Rev. Philip Keane, vice president of St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, said this was his first trip to Rome, although he had spent Thanksgiving Day in other foreign countries.

"I like the United States a lot," Father Keane said, "and being away from it on a day like this makes you think about what a great country it is. But I am very happy to be here for this celebration."

He said he was pleased to be reminded of Cardinal Gibbons' contributions to the life of the church and to American democracy.

He said Cardinal-designate Keeler plans to return to Rome in the spring to dedicate the monument to Cardinal Gibbons at Santa Maria in Trastevere.

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