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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Farewell to a Living Saint; Cuban Bishop Agustin Roman...

Bishop Agustin Roman
They say the true measure of a Christian is that when you look at them, you don't see the person, you see Jesus Christ.

That is what was said about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Bl. Pope John Paul II and, at least to me, that is what I felt the few times I was in the presence of Miami Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman.

The beloved Bishop and spiritual leader of the Cuban exile community, who was the driving force in the construction of Our Lady of Charity Shrine, aka La Ermita de la Caridad, named for the patron saint of Cuba, which became the spiritual hub of the exile and later other Latin American communities, suffered a fatal heart attack Wednesday night.

An announcement on the Archdiocese of Miami web site states:
The Archdiocese of Miami announces the death of retired Auxiliary Bishop Agustín Román, who died in Miami on Wednesday, April 11, at the age of 84.

Bishop Román suffered a cardiac arrest at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity. The bishop was transported to Mercy Hospital and, following extensive attempts at resuscitation, was pronounced dead shortly before 8:45 p.m.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski stated, “The Archdiocese of Miami has lost a great evangelizer who tirelessly preached the Gospel to all. And the Cuban nation has lost a great patriot. Bishop Roman was the Felix Varela of our time.”

Appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami in 1979, Bishop Román was the first Cuban to be appointed bishop in the U.S. He left Cuba in 1961 after being expelled by Fidel Castro's regime. Bishop Román came to Miami in 1966, where he became identified, almost immediately, with the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patroness. He oversaw its construction and remained active there even after retiring as its rector and as Miami auxiliary bishop, and up to the last months of his life.
Bishop Roman was so revered that in 1987 during the Cuban prison riots in Oakdale, Louisiana and Atlanta, Georgia, where hundreds of guards were held hostage and parts of the facilities set on fire, after uprisings erupted because of an announced agreement to repatriate 2,500 Mariel boatlift inmates, the only man that the prisoners that seized control of the prisons wanted to talk to was this holy man of God. 

Roman, who had been corresponding with some of the prisoners and their families, walked into the the prisons with only a Rosary in his hand, like a lamb among wolves, and after talking to them and praying with them, talked them into turning themselves in. 

When the press began to call him a hero, he said, "A bishop, a priest, is a servant of God, not a hero."

That was the kind of man that this selfless and humble shepherd, who was the son of  Cuban peasants and never forgot his roots, was.  Whenever an important event took place in the Cuban exile community, Bishop Roman was always at hand for spiritual guidance.

I had a couple of opportunities to meet Bishop Roman; the first shortly after being named the next leader during an Emmaus retreat at the Miami Youth Center, where he resided and liked to show up unannounced to give encouragement, in April 2009.

The first thing that struck me was his presence, short in stature and demure, yet he emanated a bigger than life aura of peace, love and gentleness. 

I was also impressed by his eloquence in English, having known him mostly as a Cuban priest, who would advocate for human rights in the land of his birth, where he was forced leave by the Communist regime and always hoped to return.  However, he was never allowed back by the Cuban government, even during Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to the island.

On that April afternoon, Bishop Roman talked to us in his soft, deliberate and captivating style, about the importance of Christian men in today's society and the responsibility that we, as Catholics, have in changing the culture.

As he always pointed out, it started in the home with our families; as husbands, fathers and spiritual leaders of our households.

He told us that we should take at least one night a week and dedicate it to our family.  In other words, he said, that we should disconnect from our cell phones, computers, television, and any other distraction and instead focus on conversation or games.

The family is the foundation of society, he told us; where the faith is learned and where the faith is lived.

He also told me personally that he would pray for me as I prepared to lead the next retreat later that year and I always felt a sense of comfort knowing that he was praying for me during those months.

On a funnier note; another time he shows up at our retreat house when we were about to start having lunch.  The retreat leader notices him (he never called attention to himself) and asked if he could lead us in prayer.  Those of us who had heard him speak before all braced ourselves to listen to this beautiful and deep spiritual prayer that would set the tone for the rest of the day.  Instead, in his very unassuming way, he does the sign of the cross and says, "Bless us oh Lord, for these thy gifts..."

It was the mealtime prayer I often say with my family.  I felt like my son whenever he's disappointed and says, "Oh, man!"

But, then in true Bishop Roman form, he delivered a powerful message to us about evangelization and our responsibilities.  He said that just as, after the retreat, we were Catholics who were awake in our faith, outside the walls of the retreat house, there were many Catholics who were asleep.  It was up to us to go awaken them.

No man is perfect and, I remember him saying, in his humility, that he was far from being the man God wanted him to be.  But, if there is one person that, in my opinion, represented the virtues of Jesus Christ, of faith, love, hope, and humility, it was Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman.

May he rest in eternal peace, as he returns home to our Father, and may he continue to pray for and one day rejoice to see a free Cuba...

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