We received the news today that an old friend of CNEWA, retired Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, has entered eternal life. Among his many contributions to the Church, he served as a member of the board of CNEWA and was a prominent voice in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, 14th archbishop of Baltimore, an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America’s first cathedral, died 23 March at his residence at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86.
Cardinal Keeler served as the spiritual shepherd of the Baltimore archdiocese from 1989 until his retirement in 2007.
Archbishop William E. Lori, one of Cardinal Keeler’s two successors, said one of the great blessings of his life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler, whom he met when the cardinal was bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., and Archbishop Lori was priest-secretary to Washington Cardinal James Hickey.
When Cardinal Keeler became archbishop of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori said he learned of “his prowess as a church historian coupled with his deep love and respect for the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
Among Cardinal Keeler&ersquo;s many accomplishments in the Baltimore archdiocese, Archbishop Lori highlighted “the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education.”
“When I would visit the cardinal at the Little Sisters of the Poor (in Cardinal Keeler’s retirement), I gave him a report on my stewardship and told him many times that we were striving to build upon his legacy — a legacy that greatly strengthened the Church and the wider community,” Archbishop Lori said in a written statement...
...Cardinal Keeler was himself a champion of interfaith and ecumenical understanding, regarded as one of the world’s leading figures in the field.
When Jewish conductor Maestro Gilbert Levine, the “pope’s conductor,” visited Baltimore in 2000 to conduct a special performance of Haydn’s “Creation” for an international interfaith musical pilgrimage, he asserted that Cardinal Keeler’s “very body is in the rhythm of interfaith.”
Cardinal Keeler was named a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1994. He also served as episcopal moderator of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs from 1984 to 1987. While leading that group, Cardinal Keeler arranged for St. John Paul II to meet with Jewish leaders and Protestant representatives in South Carolina, and attend an interfaith ceremony in Los Angeles during the pope’s 1987 visit to the United States.
After Catholics and Lutherans agreed to a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, Cardinal Keeler and Bishop George Paul Mocko, then bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, nailed a copy of the document to the doors of the Baltimore Basilica and also Christ Lutheran Church in Fells Point.
“He knew how to listen,” said Rabbi Joel Zaiman, rabbi emeritus of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Baltimore. “He heard. He understood, and he responded genuinely and generously. He was always available when I called — wherever he was — oftentimes, Rome.”
It was important to the Jewish community that the cardinal had the ear of the pope, Rabbi Zaiman said.
Rabbi Abie Ingber of Xavier University, Cincinnati, and Dr. William Madges, of Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, curators of a national exhibition highlighting St. John Paul II’s relationship with Jews, honored Cardinal Keeler in 2010 for his work promoting Catholic-Jewish understanding by presenting him with a bronze medallion. The cardinal had worked to promote the exhibit, which was featured at Baltimore’s Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Rabbi Ingber noted that one of the titles for the pope is “pontifex maximus,” which means “master bridge builder.” Recognizing Cardinal Keeler’s contributions as a bridge builder, the rabbi joked that if there was such a title as “pontifex almost maximus,” the cardinal should have it.
Our prayers today are with Cardinal Keeler and all those who love him. May his memory be eternal.