Cardinal William H. Keeler returned to Baltimore from Rome last night and said that when his term as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops ends next year, he will be spending more -- not less -- time with his archdiocese.
The newly named cardinal, touching down in Maryland for the first time as a prince of the church, announced in a brief news conference at Baltimore-Washington International Airport that he has been assigned to work with the Vatican agency that oversees about a dozen Eastern churches.
They recognize the authority of Pope John Paul II but have Orthodox-like liturgies and customs, including a married clergy.
The so-called Oriental churches include the Ukrainian and Maronite branches of Catholicism, which have congregations in Baltimore.
The new cardinal and his secretary, the Rev. Michael White, were met at the airport by a delegation of six clergymen of the archdiocese led by Auxiliary Bishop William C. Newman and Monsignor W. Francis Malooly, the chancellor.
A large red and white sign proclaiming, "Welcome Home Cardinal Keeler," decorated the room where he met the news media. The sign bore his coat of arms. It is similar to the one he had as archbishop but with the addition of a cardinal's red hat and tassels. His motto remains the same, "Opus Fac Evangelistae," or "Do the Work of an Evangelist."
Cardinal Keeler said he had gotten over the surprise of the promotion to the College of Cardinals but the continued warmth of the new attention being paid him was "very welcome." He said his elevation is "making the rest of the world more aware of Baltimore."
In naming him a cardinal, "the Holy Father is recognizing our historic archdiocese and the vitality of the church here," the cardinal said.
He went to Rome Nov. 23 with nearly 300 priests and lay people from the Baltimore archdiocese and some 100 more from his former diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., who witnessed his receipt of the cardinal's red hat at the hands of the pope. They flew from BWI on a chartered Alitalia 747.
With about 30 additional participants, who took other flights to Rome, they engaged in a busy schedule of events as part of what the new cardinal called a "pilgrimage" to the center of Roman Catholicism. They attended five Masses in Rome churches and at the Vatican, including Sunday's in St. Peter's Basilica celebrated by Pope John Paul II.
Most members of the Baltimore and Harrisburg groups returned to BWI Tuesday. Cardinal Keeler said he and Father White stayed an extra day in Rome to conduct business related to his presidency of the U.S. bishops' conference.
At 5 p.m. today at the Basilica of the Assumption, Cardinal Keeler will preside at an interfaith prayer service to which more than 1,000 government officials and religious leaders have been invited.