His Eminence Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore, William Cardinal Keeler has reached the God he loved and served all his life. Knowledgeable that words fall short in honoring the late Cardinal, we will attempt to offer a glimpse into his life of service to God and humanity, and his longstanding support of the Focolare Movement in North America.
Ordained a priest on July 17, 1955 in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, he was later invited as an expert and observer to the Second Vatican Council. Becoming a voice for post Vatican II reforms on the Church’s mission in society, he was exemplary in opening up the Church’s path to dialogue with the faithful of other Christian churches and with world religions. He was consecrated Bishop in 1979 as auxiliary of the Diocese of Harrisburg. Shortly after, in his trips to Washington, he met the community of the Focolare Movement in the United States and invited them to spread the Movement in his Diocese. During his long apostolic service, he strove for relations of trust within the ecumenical world, and in a special way with Jewish and Muslim communities.
In 1989, he became Archbishop of Baltimore (1989-2007). He accompanied the work of the Movement with paternal care, encouraging us in our work of unity and dialogue. After being awarded the Luminosa Prize for Unity in 1989—an award sponsored by the Focolare Movement, recognizing groups and individuals whose lives and works contribute to universal brotherhood—he offered his contribution as an expert on the selection committee for several years.
Cardinal Keeler deeply believed that dialogue was key in this moment in history, and that the Church had to be at the forefront of building bridges. He believed that the path to unity and dialogue started with personal relationships, and spearheaded many conferences and meetings with leaders of churches and interfaith communities. True to his own convictions, he was accessible to everyone.
Cardinal Keeler followed with love, prayers, and support the relationship between Focolare Movement founder Chiara Lubich and Imam W.D. Mohammed that culminated in the historical meeting of these two leaders and their followers at the Malcom Shabazz mosque in New York in 1997. He continued his esteem and support of both communities over the years. In 2000, he attended a follow-up gathering of the Focolare community and the followers of Imam W.D. Mohammed in Washington. Greeting the more than 5,000 people present, he stated his appreciation for Chiara Lubich and for her charism:
“It is an honor to again be with Chiara Lubich. Under her leadership the Focolare Movement has become an exceptional instrument of the Holy Spirit for spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church and beyond her boundaries. The presence of so many today bears witness to the special gifts of abandonment to the will of God and of humble joy in the Lord that the members of the Movement bring everywhere they go. Chiara’s teachings, so clearly evangelical, nourish deep respect for others in urging the quest for a deeper unity in the human family. This unity should manifest itself in concord and in peace….. To all of you we are indebted for your commitment to fostering understanding and greater unity in the human family.”
In 2011, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Focolare Movement in North America, he wrote, “May the Lord bless you in your striving to plant the seeds of mutual love and unity among all people so that peace may grow and that your Movement will continue to prosper.”
We carry his blessing and his words as we continue to work for unity.