Ten pallbearers carried the casket up the steps of the U.S.’s first cathedral, which Cardinal Keeler, who died March 23, had restored to the vision of its architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, also designer of the U.S. Capitol.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori met the casket at the back of the basilica, and spoke the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30).
The archbishop became emotional as he welcomed mourners, who filled the basilica. Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh was among those paying their respects.
“We gather now for a vigil of prayer,” Archbishop Lori said. “We gather now to commend (Cardinal Keeler’s) priestly soul to the God of light and love.”
In his homily at the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the basilica, immediately preceding the reception of Cardinal Keeler’s remains, the archbishop had described how the basilica managed to capture natural light, “even on a gloomy day.”
Cathy Farinelli and Mary Spaniol, parishioners of St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Pasadena, traveled from Riviera Beach to pay their respects.
“It’s amazing just sitting here with the music and waiting for Cardinal Keeler,” Farinelli said before the Mass. “It just stirs up feelings you didn’t know that you had. It helps you focus on what’s really important in your life.”
“He was a very kind, gentle and compassionate man,” said Sister of St. Francis Carole Rybicki, just before Cardinal Keeler’s body arrived. “Very pastoral.”
Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Demarco lauded the cardinal’s ministry to the city and commitment to schools.
“I know he did a lot for the poor, and he did a lot to promote justice among Catholics to assist the poor,” she said.
She said that she had always been “really impressed” by the cardinal’s transparency, particularly when he released the names of 57 clergy, living and dead, who had been credibly accused of the sexual abuse of children.
Robert Johnson, a parishioner of St. Gabriel in Woodlawn, looked around at the basilica, noting the work Cardinal Keeler had done to “get this together.”
“I was upset when I heard he died, because he helped put the church in Maryland on the map,” Johnson said.
The cardinal will lie in state at the basilica until 7 p.m. March 27, at which time a vespers service will include a chanting of the Office of the Dead. Members of the Knights of Columbus and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem will keep a vigil of prayer through the night.
On March 28, Cardinal Keeler’s body will be at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland for public viewing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered at the cathedral at 2 p.m.