4/18/12 | 472 views
At Cathedral Easter Mass, News Advancing Father Varela’s Cause
At his Easter Sunday Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal Dolan presented the news that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the cause of Cuban-born Father Felix Varela, giving him the title of “Venerable” and advancing his path to sainthood.
Father Varela, who served as a priest in New York in the early 1800s, “is very important to the Archdiocese of New York” and “beloved by the Cuban people,” Cardinal Dolan said.
For the announcement before the Easter congregation of some 3,000 people, the cardinal turned to Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the vice-postulator of Father Varela’s cause, who was at the cathedral for the occasion.
“He brings us good news,” Cardinal Dolan said, introducing the Brooklyn bishop, himself a native of Cuba.
Father Varela (1788-1853), a theologian who championed self-rule for Cuba when it was a colony of Spain, lived in exile in New York and was a key figure in the then-Diocese of New York. He served as vicar general, founded Transfiguration and St. James parishes in lower Manhattan, and ministered to the poor Irish immigrants in the city. He was also a New York delegate to the Council of Baltimore, the forerunner group of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Father Varela spoke for the downtrodden…and the poor,” Bishop Cisneros said.
“And in a very special way,” he said, Father Varela was “a defender of freedom—freedom for the (Spanish) colonies in the Americas and in the Philippines, freedom from slavery, and for religious freedom, especially here in New York,” where the anti-Catholic nativists and their “Know Nothing” party were active.
Bishop Cisneros called Father Varela “a standard bearer for religious freedom” in his time much as Cardinal Dolan, as Archbishop of New York and as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is now.
The announcement that Father Varela’s cause will go forward came less than two weeks after Pope Benedict’s March 26-28 visit to Cuba, where Father Varela is buried and where he is a revered figure. Indeed, there was much speculation beforehand that the pope would announce his approval of the cause during the trip.
The next step toward sainthood is beatification, which comes after Vatican approval of a miracle attributed to Father Varela’s intercession. A second miracle is required for canonization.
Celebrating his first Easter Sunday Mass since his elevation to cardinal, Cardinal Dolan was in an upbeat mood as he greeted the congregation of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world. Many were dressed in colorful Easter garb fitting for the sunny yet cool spring weather.
“We’re delighted you’re here,” the cardinal said, before making a humorous reference to the New York Jets new quarterback Tim Tebow, a notably Christian athlete who addressed a huge Easter service in Georgetown, Texas.
“You’d think I’d be so happy that we’ve got over 3,000 people in St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning, you’d think one Timothy Dolan would be happy,” the cardinal quipped, “but I’m jealous because one Timothy Tebow has over 25,000 people in Texas.”
In a brief homily delivered after the Father Varela announcement, the cardinal told of a recent interview he had in which the journalist asked who has been the most influential person in his life.
“That’s easy – Jesus Christ is the most influential person,” the cardinal said, repeating his answer. But when the journalist said she meant someone who is alive today, the cardinal said that his answer remains the same.
“My faith tells me that he’s alive now,” the cardinal said, “and that’s what Easter Sunday is all about.”
He said Jesus “is present with us, he heals us, he teaches us, he loves us…Jesus Christ is alive; he is the Lord.”
Before the Mass, people holding tickets waited on lines that went around the block for admission to the cathedral. Among them were Diane and Mark Martino and their son, Ryan, 12, of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in White Plains. “We come every year,” Mrs. Martino said. “It’s a tradition.”
After the Martinos was Ben Ofungaru, a businessman from Lagos, Nigeria, with his wife and 11-year-old son. He said they travel to New York often and always go to the cathedral.
“We were here on Good Friday,” he said, “and now it’s a great Easter.”
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