Pope sends Keeler on Philippine mission Cardinal plans to meet with leaders, attend Congress of Holy Spirit

January 17, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Two weeks after returning from a visit to Cuba, Cardinal William H. Keeler will depart for the Philippines tomorrow as the pope's envoy at a gathering of 5,000 Roman Catholics.

The National Congress of the Holy Spirit, a conference of Catholic laity, clergy and nuns from Thursday to Jan. 25 in Manila is the occasion for Keeler's visit halfway across the world. Because of it, Keeler canceled plans to return to Cuba next week during Pope John Paul II's visit there.

As Keeler prepares to leave on his weeklong trip, he knows that much is expected of him on this official visit -- or "missum extraordinarium" (unusual mission), as the pope's missive in Latin refers to it.

"I feel honored to have this assignment," Keeler, the Baltimore archbishop, said at his downtown office. "It's the first time I've gone on a mission of this kind" as a papal representative.

His visit to the Philippines is one of several international trips the globe-trotting 66-year-old cardinal will take this year, including visits to the Vatican, Israel and Poland, where he will speak at a Catholic-Jewish conference at the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp.

On Keeler's packed agenda in the Philippines are meetings with the mayor of Manila, the president of the country and the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin.

"Quite a name for a cardinal," Keeler said with a grin.

He noted that the Philippines is a deeply religious country and that it produced a crowd of millions, "perhaps the largest in human history," when Pope John Paul visited in 1995.

Keeler said he will discuss local politics, living conditions and social problems. He will also preach at an orphanage for girls, visit a cloister and seminary and see the Manila office of Catholic Relief Services, an international service organization based in Baltimore.

At the conference's closing Mass, the cardinal will deliver the homily.

Keeler said his talks will center on the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church's official theme for this year, which he said was chosen "in preparation for the millennium."

He said he will explain the meaning of baptism for Catholics, a ritual seen as a link to "the divine life present in us."

During his visit, he said, the congress "will be following the Holy Father's visit to Cuba very carefully."

When Keeler was in Cuba for four days over the New Year holiday, he roused crowds by speaking in Spanish and declaring that the pope's visit was a harbinger of hope.

Pub Date: 1/17/98

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