When Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and his wife began talking about how to celebrate their 20th anniversary last year, they both said they should do something special.

He was thinking about Paris or someplace romantic. His wife had another idea. She wanted him to take her to Honduras, a place she had heard so much about for most of their married lives.

So last November, Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, celebrated with a trip to El Progreso, Honduras, where Kaine had spent nine months as a missionary in 1980 and 1981.

Kaine, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, said that teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism. The commitments to public service and to faith have occasionally resulted in a duality of beliefs that have puzzled some Virginians and led critics, including his Republican opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore, to question his consistency.

This fall, Kaine's stand on the death penalty has attracted much attention. He says his Catholic faith leads him to personally oppose capital punishment but that as a public servant, he would place his hand on the Bible on inauguration day and pledge to carry out the laws of the state, including death sentences.

The Kilgore campaign has presented several emotional ads in which relatives of murder victims challenge Kaine's record on death penalty issues and express concern about what he might do if elected governor Tuesday.

During a recent campaign stop in Manassas, Kaine said that Kilgore had distorted his position. "I think people can tell the difference between negative campaigning and the truth," Kaine said. "And they also can respect someone who has a religious belief. And I have a religious belief that I am not going to apologize for. My religion doesn't make me cross my fingers when I take an oath, and I am going to follow that oath and enforce the death penalty."

Throughout the campaign, Kaine has asked Virginians to examine these personal commitments, the roots of which are in Honduras.

A Mountain Visit

Kaine was 22 years old. During the Christmas holiday break in Honduras, he was up in the mountains with a priest named Jarrell D. Patrick, who is known as Father Patricio. Patricio would walk from village to village and celebrate Mass on makeshift altars. One day, before saying Mass, Patricio told Kaine he wanted to visit with a man and his wife and four children.

"The family was very destitute," Kaine recalled. "The kids had obvious signs of malnutrition. We visited for a few minutes and were getting ready to leave when the man said, 'Hey, Father, wait a minute, I've got something for you.' " Kaine said the man went to a corner of the hut and picked up a hemp bag filled with food and gave it to Patricio as a Christmas gift. Kaine said he was shocked and angry that the priest had accepted food from a man whose own children clearly were not getting enough to eat.

For five minutes or more they walked in silence, until the priest turned to Kaine and said: "Tim, you know you really have to be humble to accept a gift of food from a family that poor."

Kaine said his instincts had been to tell Patricio not to take the food. Now he is glad that he did not.

"If he would have said, 'No, thanks, I don't need it,' " Kaine said, "then he would have denied the man to ability to do the most essential thing about being a human being, which is to give to somebody else. . . . That is the thing that makes life noble, just the simple notion that we all have something to offer no matter what the circumstances.

"That one sentence that Patricio said to me is the thing that I have come back to most often in the last 25 years as I try to figure out what to do and what I ought to be doing."

The meeting in the hut humbled him, teaching him to measure success in the life he went back to by how much he helped others.

"I made a decision when I came back from Honduras," Kaine said, "that I am not going to focus on making as much money as I can make. I am going to focus on doing things where I can serve people."

Patricio, 72, who first arrived in Honduras in 1967, is still there, walking the same mountain paths to remote villages that he walked with Kaine.

Patricio said that over the years, the Jesuits have had quite a few young Americans come to work at the mission, and for many of them it is a difficult time because they are too worried "about their health or the fact that there's no Coca-Cola or toilet paper."

He said Kaine was different.

"What I remember about him is that he was always the same," Patricio said recently while on a trip back to the United States for his annual physical. "He was very rational. He was kind to people. He was open to people."

He said that Kaine's time in a Third World setting forced him at a young age to confront life's big questions.

"When you live here among the people, you ask basic questions like why is man on Earth and what are we doing here and how are we treating each other," Patricio said. "The poor have something that we educated people don't have. They have a certain type of human wisdom, a type of wisdom that comes with being someone who has suffered, who has been looked down on and put down all his life. . . . My impression is he asked himself these questions, and that changed his way of thinking and what he wanted to do with his life."

Kaine said that while at the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School he attended Mass sporadically.

"I had a lot of things," Kaine said, "but my faith wasn't very strong. It wasn't the kind of bedrock that I could rely on in my life. So I really learned from the people to have a faith that would be a bedrock I could rely on."

Since he spent those months teaching and living among the poor in Honduras, he said, he has been a devout Catholic.

"You know why I'm doing this?" he said in an interview about the campaign. "It has got to be advancing the spiritual choice that I made in my life."

Meeting the Holtons

During his first semester back at law school, he was in a study group with Anne Holton, daughter of former Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton Jr., a Republican.

"I had heard of him through mutual friends," Anne Holton said. "They had told me about this fellow who had been off working in Honduras for a year, and I thought that was intriguing."

She began baking peanut butter-oatmeal cookies and taking them to the study group as a way of wooing him, although they both now say that Kaine didn't have a clue he was being wooed.

"It is safe to say that I spotted him and went after him and cookies were part of the plot," said Holton, a juvenile court judge in Richmond.

The cookies worked. They began dating and got married Nov. 24, 1984. When they graduated from law school, they knew they were going to live either in Virginia near the Holtons or in Kansas near Kaine's family.

Kaine was born in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 26, 1958, but moved to Overland Park, Kan., when he was 2 years old because his father, an electrical engineer, had a job offer there and the move gave his parents an opportunity to live closer to their families.

Al Kaine eventually opened a small manufacturing business where his wife, Kathleen, and all his sons worked once they got older. The Kaine family went to Mass every Sunday, and Kaine and his brothers attended a Catholic high school. Kent Immenschuh went to high school with him, and they have remained friends over the years.

"In high school -- and this was in the mid-70s -- we had geeks and freaks and jocks and dopers and everything else, and there wasn't a group that Tim couldn't fit into," Immenschuh said. "The thing about him is that he was always completely comfortable in his own skin. He would be at a party where pot was being smoked, and he wouldn't have to smoke it to fit in."

As a youth in Kansas, Kaine said, he was not interested in politics. But at the Holton dinner table, the talk was rarely about anything but politics and the public issues of the day. Kaine and his wife would wind up living near the Holtons after both landed jobs in Richmond, and Kaine would be regularly exposed to such conversations.

At first, Kaine said, he found being around the Holton family a little strange. "I mean, my family is so nonpolitical," Kaine said. "We talked about baseball and what's going on in school and what our friends were up to. But politics was like the movie business or pro baseball because it was something that was on TV. And I remember meeting Anne's family for the first time and they would be having a big row about apartheid or arguing about Social Security or something, and it was, like, 'What kind of crazy family is this?' "

Being around the Holton family transformed politics from a television experience to real life for Kaine. "I think, probably, that being around my dad and my family added to his understanding that politicians are just normal people," Anne Holton said. "Most people think that politicians are sort of different. I grew up around them and so I don't think that way about presidents or governors. They are just normal people, and my dad certainly gave him a sense of that."

Kaine and Holton decided to raise their children Catholic. Holton said she did not convert to Catholicism because she does not agree with the church's stand on women's issues, but she said she has attended St. Elizabeth's Church, a predominantly black Catholic church in Richmond, with her husband and children, Nat, 15, Woody, 13, and Annella, 10, for a decade and a half.

Practicing Law

Kaine settled into a small firm, and his first case was a civil rights suit in which a black woman had been denied an apartment because of her race. Kaine won it.

He continued to represent clients who were denied housing because of their race, as well as small-town governments and inmates on death row.

Kaine said his death penalty work was a small part of his law practice and not something he solicited. He said he was the primary attorney on two death penalty appeals, and both times he was appointed by the court.

"Twice in 17 years of law practice I have been asked by the courts to provide legal representation for habeas corpus appeal," Kaine said. "One other time, a junior attorney in my firm was court-appointed to a habeas corpus appeal and asked for my advice. Attorneys are required by our oaths not to decline cases simply because they are unpopular."

Kaine was appointed to appeal the death sentence of Richard Lee Whitley, who had cut the throat of his Fairfax County neighbor and then sexually assaulted her. He based his unsuccessful appeals on arguments that Whitley, who had an IQ of 75, was "insane" or "feebleminded" and should have been committed to a state hospital.

As Kaine awaited Whitley's electrocution in Richmond in July 1987, he told The Washington Post that "murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County . . . and even the Spring Street Penitentiary."

Entering Politics

Kaine said he began thinking about running for the Richmond City Council after he noticed that council members would often divide on issues along racial lines. "I'd be at meetings where the white members would go to one corner of the room to talk about things when an important issue came up and black members would go to another corner. I thought I could be a bridge builder."

He had often heard his father-in-law talk often about how people with good backgrounds and educations should think about running for office, but when he told the former governor that he was going to run for city council the response he got was this: "What in the hell would you want to do something like that?"

Kaine won his first political race and has not lost since.

On the council in the 1990s, he worked to build schools and bring the homicide rate down. Council members elected him twice as Richmond mayor.

In 2001, he was elected lieutenant governor on a Democratic ticket headed by Mark R. Warner. That office rarely has a significant role in setting state policy. The lieutenant governor's job is to preside over the state Senate, which meets each winter in Richmond.

In 2004, he backed Warner's plan to raise some taxes while increasing spending on education and other services, which won approval from the Republican-controlled General Assembly after a tumultuous session. Warner aides said Kaine helped persuade senators to accept the final budget deal.

Kaine and Warner often appear together on the campaign trail, saying that a vote for Kaine is as close as Virginians can come to continuing with Warner, who is barred from seeking reelection.

Kaine can seem uncomfortable as the center of attention. When he takes the stage for a stump speech, he usually shushes the crowd to stop the applause right away in an almost self-conscious way.

"I am not a chest beater," he said. "I never have been. I think I am a classic Midwesterner. My upbringing was to do your job, do your best and don't talk about it a lot. We don't like football players who dance around in the end zone. We like the guys who score the touchdown and just hand the ball to the ref and then just go back to the sidelines. That was the way I was raised."

At campaign stops, Kaine may invoke his faith informally. In Bristol recently, a band played a song before Kaine was introduced to a crowd at a coffeehouse. "St. Augustine says he who sings prays twice," Kaine said, and people in the crowd nodded in agreement.

He carries three harmonicas in his briefcase. Recently, during a stop in Galax at the Rex Theater, he popped up on stage with the band No Speed Limit and played along with a version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." A weekday crowd of more than 200 stood and clapped when he finished.

Kaine praised the band members, saying they were kind enough to play a song with a tempo slow enough for him to keep up.

He drives a pickup, is an expert on baseball trivia, likes to hit a bucket of golf balls to relax and doesn't have cable TV because he doesn't want his three children parked in front of the set (and, just as important, doesn't want himself parked there either, watching sports). His neighbors in Richmond have ESPN and allow him to visit for a big game, such as Virginia Tech-Maryland.

Each Sunday when he is not on the road, he goes to Mass at St. Elizabeth's. He said he joined the parish because the Masses there remind him of the long celebratory Masses he attended in Honduras.

When he made the trip back last year to celebrate his anniversary, he and his wife spent a couple of days with Father Patricio, whom he had not seen since law school.

"When he came down here with his wife last year," Patricio said, "he was the same kid as he was before. I don't think he changed at all. You know, going to Harvard Law School and going into politics, hell, that could change anyone. But he was still wanting to do things the right way."

A profile of Republican Jerry W. Kilgore was published yesterday. A profile of independent H. Russell Potts Jr. will appear.

Tim Kaine, campaigning in Annandale, said he entered politics to "be a bridge builder." Tim Kaine talks to Megan Harkleroad at a Chesapeake school. He backed the 2004 increase in state education funding.