City Board of Estimates to pay for Welch's Vatican pilgrimage

October 09, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Board of Estimates unanimously agreed yesterday to pay for a City Council member's trip to Rome to deliver a message from Mayor Martin O'Malley to Pope John Paul II.

Councilwoman Agnes Welch will join 140 Roman Catholics accompanying Cardinal William H. Keeler on an eight-day pilgrimage to Rome this month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul's papacy and the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997.

Keeler governs the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which encompasses the city and nearby counties with a Catholic population of nearly 500,000 - including Welch and O'Malley.

The board unanimously approved the $2,478.87 requested by the mayor's office to cover Welch's expenses for the trip from Sunday to Oct. 20.

She will travel as a representative of Baltimore and will deliver a congratulatory message and a small gift, a book about Baltimore, to the pope.

It is the second time the 78-year-old council member has made such a trip on the city's behalf. She traveled to Rome in November 1994 when the pope elected Keeler to the College of Cardinals.

Finance Director Peggy Watson filled in for O'Malley at yesterday's meeting because the mayor was in Miami Beach, Fla., for a conference.

An O'Malley spokesman said Welch's visit is intended to foster relations between the region's Catholics and the city.

Welch did not return calls asking for comment. City Council President Sheila Dixon, who is chairwoman of the Board of Estimates, supported the expenditure.

"There are a whole host of services that many of the Catholic churches work with us on," Dixon said.

Welch's fellow council member, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, said she was surprised the trip was covered but conceded that Welch was traveling as a city representative.

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