Cuban Father Varela Declared Venerable

Papal Recognition Is Made Official

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By Sergio H. Mora

ROME, MAY 15, 2012 ( Cuban priest Felix Varela officially has the title venerable. The expected news came last Friday in the pages of L’Osservatore Romano. Shortly before, on Easter Sunday, the announcement was made in Havana, New York, Miami and St. Augustine, Florida, that is, in all the dioceses that were involved in the cause.

During Benedict XVI’s apostolic journey to Cuba in March, Servant of God Felix Varela already had the title of venerable two weeks earlier, but in the Pope’s official addresses, written beforehand, he was mentioned only with the title Servant of God.

Now the next step is beatification, although for this to occur God will have to work a miracle through Father Varela’s intercession.

ZENIT spoke with the postulator of the cause, La Salle Brother Rodolfo Meoli.

ZENIT: Since when has Felix Varela been Venerable?

Brother Meoli: The official decree is of March 14, just before the Pope’s trip to Cuba. Many of us hoped that everything would be ready so that the Pope would make this “gift” to the Church in Cuba on the occasion of his trip. Then there was a distraction and no one thought of substituting in the Pope’s addresses, undoubtedly prepared before March 14, the word “Servant of God” with “Venerable.” Meanwhile, the cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, had received from the hands of Monsignor Georg Ganswein, the Pope’s private secretary, two copies of the decree.

ZENIT: So it was L’Osservatore Romano that gave the news to the people?

Brother Meoli: The Vatican newspaper gave the news to the world in its May 11 edition, but with this specification: “On March 14, 2012, the Supreme Pontiff authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree on the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Felix Francisco Jose de la Concepcion Varela Morales, diocesan priest born in Havana, Cuba, on November 20, 1788 who died in Saint Augustine (the United States) on February 25, 1853.”

So it was the cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, as that of New York, Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, and the bishop of Saint Augustine, Felipe Estevez, who made the solemn announcement on Easter Sunday in the respective cathedrals. In regard to New York, there is a video in which the archbishop is seen and heard during the Mass in Saint Patrick’s, calling the auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, Octavio Cisneros, to make the announcement, as he was the vice postulator of the cause of the Cuban Venerable.

ZENIT: Can you help us recapitulate how the process unfolded?

Brother Meoli: The three last phases were: the verdict, let’s call it that, of the Commission made up of nine theologians who judged and gave their positive assessment of the dossier presented in its time by the Postulation. This was on December 13 of last year. The final positive assessment of the Commission of 15 cardinals and bishops was last March 6, and, to conclude, the Holy Father’s authorization to the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish the decree on the heroic virtues of the Servant of God. The decree is dated March 14, 2012, with the seal of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes and signed by the prefect, Cardinal Angelo Amato, and by the secretary, the Most Excellent Marcello Bartolucci.

Father Felix Varela

Father Varela is considered one of the forgers of the Cuban nation. He was born in Havana in 1788. He was ordained a priest at 23 in Havana’s cathedral and appointed professor of Philosophy, Physics and Ethics in the capital’s Seminary at 24. There he prepared the country’s first Physics and Chemistry  laboratory.

In the history of Cuban culture, Father Felix Varela occupies a place of absolute pre-eminence for his contribution to the development of the national culture, for his marked patriotism and his illustrious virtue. He was professor, educator and model of piety for his disciples. In 1821, at 34, he was elected deputy and sent as representative of Cuba to the Courts of Madrid.

The three proposals of law that he made during his stay in Spain were: of a Government for the overseas provinces; independence and the abolition of slavery. About the overseas provinces, he wrote: “Laws are dampened and weakened when crossing the ocean and they are replaced by man’s will.”

He did not succeed in seeing any of his proposals approved and after the restoration of royal absolutism in 1823, he had to leave Spain. Unable to return to Cuba, he sought exile in the United States, from where, in New York, he continued his battle.

He was an exemplary priest, built schools and churches and evangelized the poor and immigrants helping them to integrate. He died in the United States on February 25, 1853. His remains rest in the Aula Magna  of the University of Havana.

Born in the crucial pass of two centuries, he was able to make his own the anxieties posed by reason’s questions, preserving the essence of Christian culture and at the same time opening to the new exigencies of thought.

In 1981 the Cuban government created the Felix Varela Order, the country’s greatest award.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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