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CNN Today

Cardinal Keeler Remembers Cardinal John O'Connor

Aired May 4, 2000 - 1:08 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is rumored that when John O'Connor was given the job of New York Archbishop, Pope John Paul II had said, "I want a man like me in New York." is that what he got?

Joining us now with some special insights is the archbishop of Baltimore and one of only six other American cardinals, William H. Keeler. As it happens, Cardinal Keeler comes to us today from Rome.

Cardinal we thank you for being with us. We know this is sad day. We want to extend our...

CARDINAL WILLIAM H. KEELER, ARCHBISHOP OF BALTIMORE: Good to be here, Natalie.

ALLEN: Thank you.

We want to extent our sympathies. I know that your relationship with Cardinal O'Connor goes back 30 years. What has been the reaction there today to this news?

KEELER: Well, it's sad , but it -- since the news was not unexpected, it's also a time when we're saying: Thanks dear Lord for sending a leader, a priest, a bishop like Cardinal O'Connor to help the church not only in New York, but in the United States and worldwide.

ALLEN: Give us specifics. What do you think were his special gifts that he brought?

KEELER: Well, what I noticed always was his enormous sense of humor. Irrepressible. Whether it was a small private meeting or a general public event with thousands present, he would break the ice by telling a story that could be outrageous or a quip that just lifted everybody's spirit. So he had -- he brought that.

He brought also a very deep spirit of faith. You knew that he believed what he was saying.

And beyond that he was a voracious reader. He had several doctorates. he had an almost universal knowledge of American history, of political history, as well as of our Catholic faith.

ALLEN: And he stayed very loyal to the Pope and to the teachings of Catholicism despite others in this country who had different views on things. We led this intro of him saying that it was reported but never confirmed the pope had said "I want a man like me in New York." What do you think about that statement?

KEELER: Well, I think it's an interesting bit of speculation. No two people are alike, though. Cardinal O'Connor was devoted to the teachings of our faith. His personality was different. He had -- he brought the gifts of an Irish Catholic from West Philadelphia to the service of the church, that crackling wit that I mentioned.

So he had -- he was his own personal, his own personality and he had the freedom to develop it very well; through his study, through his conversation with others.

And in one way he's been particularly important builder of friendships with our Jewish friends in the United States.

ALLEN: Right, as we learned in the story that we just aired that he was very much a leader in bringing different faiths together. What do you think inspired him to do that work?

KEELER: Well, there he was following the lead of Pope John Paul. Who in turn was making part of his ministry a successor of the apostle Peter a carrying out of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council; which looked to our church being more open, being engaged with other Christians, and in discussions with the world religions. But in a special way with the Jewish faith because of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. The fact our faith, our Christian faith was born in the Middle East in what is today, Israel, Jesus, the apostles, the whole early church was in fact Jewish.

ALLEN: What do you think will be his legacy?

KEELER: Well, his legacy is his example: A man of faith, of prayer, of an ability to articulate in a wonderful fashion, sometimes he was misunderstood. But he spoke out very clearly: in defense of God's gift of human life, in defense of the poor, his ministry to the patients with AIDS, his personal caring for them every week. I think that made a huge impression on people that knew him up close and as time goes on, that's going to be remembered even more.

ALLEN: Cardinal William Keeler, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us about Cardinal O'Connor.

KEELER: Thank you Natalie, God bless you.

ALLEN: Thank you.

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