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Puerto Rico Herald

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Moves Closer To Sainthood

By Ivan Roman

April 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez became the first Puerto Rican and only the second Latin American layperson to be beatified during a ceremony Sunday before thousands in the Plaza of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

But it wasn`t the miracle attributed to Rodriguez 18 years after his death that convinced Pope John Paul II to bring him one step closer to sainthood.

Rodriguez earned the title "blessed" because of those everyday deeds that proved the depth of his faith, according to the Catholic Church hierarchy and those who knew him.

"The miracle is secondary," said Carmen Santana, whose lymphatic cancer disappeared after her husband -- while waiting in a Boston clinic -- prayed to his old friend Carlos to intervene. "The most important thing is that he lived a life of virtues to a heroic degree, and he is venerable. He lived a saintly life."

Puerto Ricans in the crowd in St. Peter`s Square cheered and waved their U.S. commonwealth`s flag when the pope read out Rodriguez`s name.

Illness afflicted Rodriguez

To Santana and the other 2,300 Puerto Rican Catholics who flew to Rome, the joyful ceremony Sunday was just reward for their years of sharing his legacy with anyone who would listen.

With two younger sisters as his "altar boys," an 11-year-old Rodriguez didn`t just play priest in daily Mass at his home in Caguas the late 1920s. He understood way beyond his age the Holy Scriptures, the liturgy and the philosophy of the church.

At a time when priests celebrated Mass in Latin with their backs to the parishioners, Rodriguez insisted the church should hold Mass in Spanish. An avid reader and self-taught in everything from philosophy to music, he translated all the Catholic rituals so people could understand.

Despite a serious illness that often kept him in pain from the time he was 13 and dashed his hopes of finishing college, he always found strength to teach hundreds in catechism classes and college Catholic groups. His message was how, by sharing a smile or tears with a neighbor, everyone could do Christ`s work.

He owned only one pair of shoes as an adult -- brown wingtips now kept at a sister`s home that the faithful seeking miracle cures touch and put small notes in. Convinced that Catholics achieve true grace at Easter, he often told his pupils, "We live for that night," a phrase that has taken on a double meaning as thousands stayed up in vigil before dawn Sunday to watch the ceremony live on television.

"He is a model, giving prominence to laypeople," said Bishop Ruben Antonio Gonzalez of the Caguas Diocese. "He was a normal, ordinary man who dedicated his time to teach the name and ways of Jesus Christ."

Also beatified Sunday were four founders of religious orders.

Banners decorated with images of the five people honored were draped over the facade of St. Peter`s Basilica and were unveiled after the pope declared them blessed.

More than 30 cardinals, bishops or other clergy helped the pope celebrate the Mass, including representatives from Puerto Rico, Canada and Spain.

Not like other children

Born in 1918, Rodriguez, known in Puerto Rico as the "lay apostle of the liturgical movement," grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family of five children in what is now a southern suburb of San Juan. During his younger years, though, the area was a small town with many poor people.

Early on, his family knew he was not like other children. When he was 4, his mother found him lying in the courtyard, arms stretched out, looking at the sky and asking the Lord to come get him. A smart child, he already knew how to read, pray, recite, do some math and some words and sentences in English on his first day of school.


A demonstrator carries a picture of Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican Saint, asking for his help to bring peace to Vieques, April 26, 2001 in San Juan. Civil organizations called a protest march after a U.S. federal judge ruled the U.S. Navy could resume bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island. The sign reads 'Carlos Manuel, we ask you for peace in Vieques. (Ana Martinez/Reuters)


He saved a 1-year-old cousin from being attacked by a police dog, a traumatic experience that his relatives say marked the beginning of his health problems.

At 13, he was diagnosed with ulcerous colitis, which inflamed his intestines, often causing high fevers and other serious problems. It often kept the thin man from eating properly, delayed his high-school graduation for years and forced him to drop out of college.

Stoic in the face of such physical pain and hardship, relatives say, he often laughed off the "embarrassing situations" caused by his illness.

He decried Puerto Ricans` increasing departure from Catholic values during the island`s quick transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society in the 1950s. He quit his job doing office work in the late 1950s and began teaching liturgy full time in San Juan`s University Catholic Center, where he met many of the pupils who decades later would start a campaign to have him beatified.

His severe colitis turned into colon cancer, and he died in San Jorge Hospital in San Juan in 1963.

Memories of a miracle

Some of his friends and pupils formed the Carlos M. Rodriguez Circle months later to celebrate his life and continue his teachings. Some time after, Santana, the group`s treasurer, told them of the miracle.

Riddled by lymphatic cancer in 1981, she discovered that it all disappeared during a visit to a clinic in Boston. Months later, when she feared it had returned -- a false alarm, it turned out -- her husband told her not to worry, that he had asked Rodriguez to save her while they were in Boston.

"When he did the tests over, the doctor told me, `Do you believe in miracles?` and I said `Yes,` " said Santana, 61, a retired chemistry professor. "I later found out my husband made a request to Charlie like we simple country folk do: `Charlie, put your hand in this.` "

They told the circle about the miracle. And the campaign to have the Catholic Church hierarchy bestow upon him the titled of "blessed" gained momentum in 1987, after Pope John Paul II declared it the Year of the Laity. After a rigorous investigation of the medical miracle and the testimony of 38 witnesses at an ecclesiastic tribunal, the church declared him "blessed" in 1999, the only layperson of five people beatified Sunday.

Juan Diego, the Mexican believed to have seen the Virgin of Guadalupe some 400 years ago, is the only other Latin American layperson beatified so far.

Experts exhumed Rodriguez`s body, cut away pieces of small bone and are collecting pieces of his clothing and personal items to maintain as relics. His body will be taken in a procession from a monastery in the eastern city of Humacao to the Sweet Name of Jesus Cathedral in Caguas, steps away from where he grew up, to be exhibited to the faithful.

Another miracle attributed to him must take place from this day forward for the church to consider him for sainthood. Catholics keep showing up at the home of Sixta Maria Rodriguez, Rodriguez`s sister, to touch his shoes, hoping to be cured of their illnesses.

"This is such a great moment," said Teresa Vega Colon, 56, whose husband, a garbage collector for the city of Caguas, got money for the trip to Rome from tips during the Christmas season. "We`re so proud. He gave the most he could to our people."

Many attended a special goodbye Mass for those making the pilgrimage to Rome in the cathedral that soon will hold Rodriguez`s remains. They called him a model for today`s young people who proves that all people, not just clergy, can live saintly lives as long as they have faith.

"We need this now in these times of so much convulsion, so many drugs and such abuse," said Rosalina R. Valcarcel, 63, a doctor whose daughter went to the Vatican. "Just this past weekend, there were 13 homicides on such an island so small like ours. He`s an example, no matter what faith you are."

Wire services were used in this report. Iván Román can be reached at or 787-729-9071.

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