Cardinal O’Connor Baptizes Presidential Relative in Dominican Republic
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Cardinal John O’Connor of New York baptized a relative of President Joaquin Balaguer during a stopover here before starting a four-day visit to Cuba.
The Roman Catholic prelate arrived on Sunday afternoon and was scheduled to depart today for Santiago de Cuba, where he will celebrate a Mass before traveling to Havana for meetings with church leaders.
The Cuba visit comes at a time when leader Fidel Castro has eased restrictions on religious activity. O’Connor will be the highest ranking U.S. Catholic official to visit Cuba since Castro came to power in 1959. He may visit Castro, but no meeting has been confirmed.
The official purpose of his trip is to honor the 200th birthday of the Rev. Felix Varela, a Cuban priest who spent many years in New York.
″This is a dream realized. It means everything to me,″ said Marilyn Balaguer de Torterolo, a niece of the president, whose 7-month-old son Marcos was baptized.
″We became very good friends in New York. He (O’Connor) married me and baptized my other son,″ she said. ″My sister had cancer and before he was a bishop or cardinal, he visited her every day.″
Before leaving today, O’Connor was to attend a ground-breaking ceremony for a children’s hospital in Santo Domingo. The funding came from the Foundation for Catholic Health Care in the Dominican Republic, a group O’Connor helped set up on a visit in 1987.
The hospital will have 300 beds and cost $15 million, said Richard Yezzo, a foundation official and president of St. Clare’s Hospital in New York.
The cardinal has traveled in the Dominican Republic twice in the past three years, his interest caused in part by the 850,000 Hispanics in his diocese of 1.8 million Catholics.
Before departing by private jet for Cuba, O’Connor also was to address a conference on AIDS that the foundation helped sponsor.