By Byron Macias
“Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!” was the episcopal motto of Bishop Agustin Román and his very life testifies that he really meant it. On April 11, 2012, as Román was preparing to minister (at age 83), he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Literally, he preached the gospel through deeds and words until his very last breath.
To speak of Bishop Román is to speak about a humble man of simple heart, sense of humor, and a strong love for the people of God, the church. To talk about him is also to talk about somebody who believed in peace, in serving people, in getting to know them and their needs and joys.
Agustín Alejo Román Rodríguez, was born on May 5, 1928 in Cuba. He was ordained a priest on July 5, 1959 and assigned to the parishes in Cuba; at the same time, he was the spiritual director for Juventud Católica youth group. Expelled from Cuba on September 17, 1961, by the communist regime, along with 130 other priests, he was exiled to Chile, where he was spiritual director and professor at the Institute of Humanities from 1962 to 1966. Bishop Román came to the U.S. in 1967 and immediately began his ministry as the chaplain of Mercy Hospital in Miami until 1973. In 1979 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Miami by Pope John Paul II, becoming the first Cuban bishop in the United States.
The New York Times writes that Román “served as a mediator in 1980 when Fidel Castro allowed more than 100,000 Cubans to flee by sea to the U.S. He helped negotiate a peaceful end to the 1987 riots of Cuban detainees at federal prisons in Georgia and Louisiana. He later sought to persuade Cuban Americans to support asylum for Haitian refugees.” Because of his pastoral work, ABC News also recognized him as “Person of the Week,” to which he responded: “A bishop, a priest, is a servant, not a hero.”
Román raised enough money to pay for the construction of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami. He oversaw the construction of this shrine which is “a beacon for exiles from many nations luring thousands of worshipers each year,” according to the Archdiocese of Miami.
This is how Román made a difference, how he preached the gospel at all times by virtually spending his life serving the community, especially the Cuban immigrants, the poor, and prisoners. He was known to be a “sign of unity and a defender of the immigrants.” Bishop Román found inspiration and strength in St. Anthony Claret, who was the first archbishop of Santiago de Cuba in 1850 and who also died in exile. This is why Román had a strong love and devotion to St. Anthony Claret; this is why he constantly promoted the Claretian legacy and service among the people. On countless occasions, in fact, Román would call himself “a Claretian!”
Rick Scott, the governor of Florida says: “His life serves as shining example of what it means to follow Jesus Christ’s direction that the greatest among us are the humble servants who seek no reward for themselves.” U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says: “He was as an advocate… for those whom society had sometimes forgotten.”
In your life goals, do you aspire to positions of power? Do you see yourself in that position as honored and respected or serving others?