by Steven Childs
It will take nothing short of a miracle — more precisely another miracle — for Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez to become a saint. But at one Queens church, parishioners already direct their prayers to the first beatified Puerto Rican-born Catholic.
For the 10th time in as many years, St. Paul the Apostle Church in Corona commemorated Rodriguez’s life and faith with a Spanish Mass in his honor last Sunday, July 8.
St. Paul’s parishioner and Puerto Rican native, Raymond Amoro, organized the Mass for Rodriguez, whose canonization he works to achieve.
“I try to let the people know who Charlie (Rodriguez) is and what he used to do,” said Amoro of his reason for coordinating the celebration.
Born in 1918 and raised in Cauguas, Puerto Rico, Rodriguez devoted his life to promoting the liturgy and a deep-seated appreciation of its role in spiritual growth. Before his death in 1963, severe intestinal maladies prevented him from entering either the clergy or academia, despite his desire to enter both fields. Nevertheless, Rodriguez worked closely with academics and students at the University of Puerto Rico, formed Christian discussion societies (most notably the Christian Culture Circle), participated in the Knights of Columbus, taught catechism to high-school students and published several works on Christianity and the liturgy, calling for many of the liturgical reforms later enacted by the Second Vatican Council.
A woman’s recovery from malignant non-Hodgkins lymphoma after praying to Rodriguez in 1981 made him eligible for beatification. And in 1999, Pope John Paul II declared him “Blessed” in recognition of that miracle, making Rodriguez both the first beatified Puerto Rican and the first beatified member of the Knights of Columbus.
At the start of the Mass, the Color Corps of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus’s Commodore John Barry Assembly accompanied a photo of Rodriguez to the altar along with some of the parish’s Hispanic children dressed in costumes from their families’ native countries.
“Because he was a Knight, that’s why we’re here,” said Herbert Chery, a parishioner of St. Paul’s for 30 years and a member of the Color Corps, who explained that he hopes to see a growth in his organization’s Hispanic presence as a result of Rodriguez’s example. Mario Massa, past faithful navigator of the Commodore John Barry Assembly, which comprises 22 councils, Anthony Fontana, Frank Sinnona and Guillermo Morera also attended the Mass as part of the Color Guard.
Deacon Fernando Orozco delivered an animated homily, pointing to Rodriguez’s life as an example to which the laity should strive to imitate.
Following communion, Father Darrell Da Costa blessed a parishioner battling cancer at the foot of the altar while those in attendance extended their arms as part of the prayer of healing.
Later, Father Da Costa, pastor of St. Paul’s, said that beyond Rodriguez’s serving as a model for lay Christians, he also serves as an example to the ill for how to cope with their physical burdens. Most important, however, said Father Da Costa, is Rodriguez’s focus on liturgy and Eucharist, which Father Da Costa called “very inspiring to us all.” Even before the Second Vatican Council, he explained, “He (Rodriguez) had a sense of what was needed.”
Msgr. Paul Jervis, former pastor of St. Paul’s, said that Rodriguez’s example allows Hispanics “to feel at home in the church and in the lay ministry.” In zealously promoting Rodriguez’s canonization, Amoro has introduced many parishioners to a new Catholic role model, explains Msgr. Jervis.
But for Amoro, who travels to Puerto Rico every year for the July 13 memorial of Rodriguez’s death, “Charlie’s” life has a much simpler meaning. A humble man who frequently helped the poor, Rodriguez and his ideas on the liturgy should be imitated and lived out, he said. As a result, Amoro works to raise awareness of Rodriguez, not only so that prayers to him will increase but also so that the beneficiaries of his intercessions will come forward to expedite his canonization.
Amoro said “Vivimos para esa noche (We live for this night)” was Rodriguez’s most notable quote, explaining that it refers to the Easter Vigil and its religious significance. “We all live here now, but with the hope and the faith that we will eventually participate with God in heaven.”
Next year, for the 50th anniversary of Rodriguez’s death, Amoro hopes to include both Rodriguez’s sister, a Carmelite nun, and his nephew, Andy Roda, who has attended past memorial Masses at St. Paul’s with relics from his uncle. Now, however, he will travel to Puerto Rico to pay homage to the person he hopes will become St. Carlos.