Keeler praises perseverance of John Paul

Cardinal returns to city from visit to Rome for anniversary of papacy

October 23, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Cardinal William H. Keeler returned to Baltimore yesterday after an eight-day pilgrimage to Rome where he celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's papacy, describing the gathering as a "moment of thanksgiving" and noting the perseverance shown by the ailing 83-year-old pontiff throughout the ceremonies.

"My sense of Pope John Paul during this past week was that he must be going through some kind of personal agony because he's a sharp person, but not able to express himself as fully as he would like," Keeler said yesterday during an informal news conference.

"But he carried it out with great simplicity and perseverance. For each one of the ceremonies, he stayed for the whole thing."

The frail health of the pope, who has Parkinson's disease, arthritis and other ailments, was difficult to ignore as he completed an exhausting week filled with ceremonies amid the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and pilgrims from across the globe.

Before overflow crowds in St. Peter's Square, he celebrated 25 years as pope, the fourth-longest tenure in the papacy's nearly 2,000-year history. He also beatified Mother Teresa, India's "Angel of Mercy," and installed 30 new cardinals from 22 countries, cementing his already firm imprint on the group who will choose his successor.

Keeler, who made his remarks on the steps of the Basilica of the Assumption after his arrival in Baltimore late yesterday afternoon, said that the mood among the College of Cardinals was "celebratory."

"What I saw this past week was a church expressing thanks," Keeler said. "We gave thanks to what happened in the past and what is still happening under his leadership," referring to the pope's peacemaking efforts and the promotion of ecumenical ties.

Keeler, whose Archdiocese of Baltimore has a Catholic population of nearly 500,000 in the city and surrounding counties, said he did have the opportunity to meet "quietly, but not privately" with the pope on two occasions. He said he shared the "love and affection" of the people of Baltimore and thanked the pontiff for praying for a local priest who is ill.

In the past couple of months, speculation has swirled around the pope's health. It began during a four-day pilgrimage to Slovakia in September where the pope appeared more ill than usual, slurring his words and failing to finish any of his sermons or speeches.

In late September, he missed a public audience at the Vatican because of what officials called an intestinal ailment. Cardinals, usually loath to talk openly about the pope's deteriorating health, began speaking candidly about his eventual passing.

"The entire world is experiencing a pope who is sick, who is disabled and who is dying," said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, who described John Paul as "approaching the last days and months of his life."

Since then, the pope appears to have rebounded somewhat. John Paul is unable to walk or stand.

The pope has no other trips or major events planned before Christmas. He might, however, travel next year to Austria, Switzerland, France and his homeland, Poland, according to a spokesman.

Sun staff writer Frank Langfitt and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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