Keeler applauded in Havana Cardinal offers Mass in main cathedral

January 02, 1998|By Rosie Hayes | Rosie Hayes,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HAVANA -- More than a thousand Cuban Roman Catholics packed the main cathedral of this city yesterday and applauded Baltimore's Cardinal William H. Keeler as he arrived to celebrate New Year's Day Mass in the culmination of a three-day visit to the island.

Keeler was joined by his host and close colleague, Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana, in the special Mass at the newly renovated San Cristobal Cathedral in the old part of this city.

The two cardinals were applauded as they entered the large Gothic-style cathedral, with Keeler preceding Ortega and Monsignor Beniamino Stella, the papal nuncio, or Vatican representative to Cuba.

They celebrated the Mass that lasted almost two hours alongside 50 of Cuba's other priests and altar servers.

It was the second Mass in less than 24 hours for Keeler, who had celebrated a midnight Mass in the western Cuban city of Pinar del Rio the night before.

The Havana Cathedral was renovated recently in anticipation of the visit this month by Pope John Paul II.

Keeler and the other main celebrants were dressed in cream and gold cloaks over white albs as they celebrated the Mass on the altar of the church, lighted by one large, three-tier chandelier and eight smaller ones.

The congregation of Havana Catholics applauded again when Ortega introduced his guest from the United States.

In his sermon, Ortega said Cubans were looking forward to the visit of the pope and noted the pontiff's support for human rights.

The new year, he said, would bring "an abundance of blessings (( on our church and our people," adding that Cubans were waiting with "emotion and gratitude."

Keeler spoke briefly in Spanish to the congregation at the end of the Mass, telling them he brought greetings from American Catholics and best wishes for the forthcoming visit of the pope.

Touching on the sensitive subject of human rights, Ortega referred to the pope's New Year's message and his call for rights to be universal and indivisible.

Universal meant rights were for all citizens and all peoples, Ortega said. Indivisible meant human rights could not be picked out at will -- for example, respecting individual and civil rights and not social and economic rights, or the other way around, he said.

Ortega said every new year brings a sense of personal or communal renewal and described the Cuban church as in a process of renovation, with an increasing number of faithful.

Cuban church leaders have said a growth in faith in Cuba in recent years has been given a boost by the prospect of the papal visit. Regular churchgoers are still a small minority.

"Pope John Paul is the strongest promoter in our world of values of human life, dignity and of the principles of justice and peace," Ortega said.

Keeler stood alongside Ortega during the consecration of bread and wine in preparation for communion on a newly renovated marble altar.

But the service was different from the one in Pinar del Rio. There, Keeler celebrated midnight Mass in the city's 100-year-old cathedral for a crowd of about 500.

The cardinal described the attendance as "complete and full of enthusiasm."

Keeler told the congregation in Havana, "The people of Baltimore are praying for a successful visit of Pope John Paul to Cuba." He said it meant a great deal to them when the pope visited Baltimore two years ago: "It brought a day of peace for the Catholic community and also its neighbors."

The Cuban congregations in Pinar del Rio and Havana responded by saying they were glad to see Keeler in their community and told him how excited they were that the pope was coming to Cuba, Keeler said.

On the eve of his departure from Cuba, Keeler was applauded again as he ended his message to the Cuban Catholic community.

One Catholic from Havana, Raul Herrera, 57, summed up Keeler's visit by saying it was "a positive indication of good relations between the church in the United States and the church in Cuba."

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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