Cardinal William H. Keeler Marylander of the Year


Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders came to Baltimore to pray together for peace in Bosnia, successively in an Orthodox cathedral, mosque, synagogue and Catholic basilica. They were invited by Archbishop William H. Keeler.

When the Rev. Gordon L. Sommers of the Moravian Church in America was installed as president of the National Council of Churches representing 32 Protestant and Orthodox denominations, at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, Archbishop Keeler attended.

Last year, the Baltimore archbishop met with Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to urge Israel to improve its dialogue with Palestinian Christians. When Pope John Paul II last month named Archbishop Keeler to the Sacred College of Cardinals, Mr. Peres sent congratulations and thanks "for your contribution to the promotion of relations with Israel and Judaism."

Since his staff role at Vatican Council II in 1962-65, Cardinal Keeler's priestly career has always included a major effort in outreach toward other faiths.

As Bishop of Harrisburg in 1987 he helped arrange Pope John Paul II's meeting in Miami with Jewish leaders distressed at the pope's meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. He organized the pope's interfaith ceremony in Los Angeles involving Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. He served on the International Commission for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue, and began a dialogue with U.S. Muslims.

This was part of his personal history when the pope in 1989 named him to be the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore. Along with his spiritual and executive leadership as archbishop and his personal dynamism, it led to his election in 1992 by some 300 active bishops to a three-year term as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. That makes him the chief spokesman of the Catholic Church in the United States.

National leadership in the church, strong administration of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and international activism in ecumenism commended his elevation by the pope this month to be a prince of the Church, one of only 120 active priests wearing the cardinal's hat. They advise the pope and accept special duties. Should it be required, they would choose his successor.

This eminence restores to Baltimore its leading position in the Church which began when Father John Carroll was named the first bishop in America, and Baltimore the first diocese, in 1789, the year George Washington became president. They were elevated to first archbishop and archdiocese, respectively, in 1808. The 14th Archbishop of Baltimore is the third raised to the college of cardinals, after James Gibbons and Lawrence Shehan.

For leadership in interfaith dialogue, for strengthening the Archdiocese of Baltimore and for restoring Baltimore's prominence in the Church to what history (but no longer size) requires, Cardinal William H. Keeler is The Baltimore Sun's Marylander of the Year. He has been a preeminent force for good will and understanding since becoming a Marylander five years ago.

Cardinal Keeler, at age 63, is a tall man, a large physical presence, modest and approachable, greeting all with a warm smile. He is a man above all of faith and conviction. He bestows a "God bless you" upon Catholics and non-Catholics alike at the end of many a conversation and telephone call.

Invariably gracious, always conveying a personal interest in whomever he meets, he is also a consummate politician who understands the various forces at work in today's increasingly secularist society. His "political" skill shows forth in his ability to commune with many kinds of people, in his instinct for remembering names. During the recent ceremonies in Rome, he introduced everyone sitting around a large table from memory.

Cardinal Keeler is a prelate, with all the attendant duties, some joyful and some onerous. He delegates and he innovates. He oversaw the first upturn in total enrollment in the archdiocese's 101 schools in two decades, some bringing discipline and learning to inner-city children. He committed the archdiocese to candor in addressing the pain caused by a handful of priests abusing their trust. He faces the heart-rending problem of historic churches with insufficient congregations.

The cardinal has crusaded in the public arena for life, against abortion and against guns. With personal radio ads, he instituted the first annual fund-raising in the archdiocese since 1969, the Archbishop's Lenten Appeal. It goes to the parishes and institutions of greatest need, strengthening community within the far-flung archdiocese. He is committed to the Church's pro-active role, locally and globally, for human understanding.

This newspaper has not agreed with Cardinal Keeler on every public issue, though we do on many. On matters of divergent view, we will, as he will, continue to speak out. Within his church, where he is sometimes considered a theological conservative and a social liberal, a vocal minority disagrees with his positions on intramural controversies. But he works always to bridge differences and to seek out the humanity common to all.

Cardinal Keeler makes this city and state a better place. He is Marylander of the Year.

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