Church grieves death of Bishop Agustin Román, leader of Cuban exiles

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Bishop Agustin A. Román of Miami.

Catholics worldwide are grieving the death of retired Bishop Agustin A. Román of Miami, considered the leader of the Cuban community in exile, who passed away on the evening of April 11 at the age of 83.

According to the Archdiocese of Miami, Bishop Román suffered a heart attack outside the local Shrine of Our Lady of Charity. He was taken to Mercy Hospital nearby and after various attempts to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said the U.S. Church “has lost a great evangelizer who tirelessly preached the Gospel to all” and that “the Cuban nation has lost a great patriot.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) called his passing “not just a loss for the Catholic faithful in South Florida but for all in our community who have fled oppressive regimes or have sought refuge and comfort in the words and support of this gentle man.” 

“He was an advocate for God, for fundamental freedoms, and for those whom society had sometimes forgotten,” she noted. “This grand man of prayer and love united us like no other and in his passing we mourn the death of a priest loved by all who met him or heard his homilies.”

Bishop Agustin Román was born on May 5, 1928 in the Cuban town of San Antonio de los Baños.  He was ordained a priest on July 4, 1959, for the Diocese of Matanzas. Appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami in 1979, Bishop Roman was the first Cuban to be appointed bishop in the U.S.

He left Cuba in 1961 after being expelled by Fidel Castro's regime together with 132 other priests.  Bishop Roman came to Miami in 1966, where he founded the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba's patroness. 

For seven years he oversaw its construction, encouraging exiled Cubans to donate to the project. The shrine became beloved by thousands of Latinos from dozens of countries who live in south Florida. 

Bishop Román remained active there even after retiring as its rector and as Miami auxiliary bishop, and up to the last days of his life.

As Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, he served on the Committee for Hispanic Affairs of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference and was a member of the Committee on Migration and Tourism. 

He worked as a chaplain at Mercy Hospital (1968-1973), as director of the Spanish-speaking Cursillo Movement (1978‐1979); spiritual director of the Charismatic Movement (1977‐1979); member of the committee on Popular Piety; and episcopal vicar for the Spanish-speaking people of the Archdiocese (1976– 1984).

He was known for his skill to reaching the faithful through parables and stories filled with symbolism. 

In December of 1986, he intervened when Cuban detainees rioted in federal prisons in Atlanta, Ga., and Oakdale, La., to protest their indefinite incarceration and probable deportation to Cuba.

Seeking a mediator for their negotiations with federal agents, the prisoners called on Bishop Román, who had been corresponding with many of them or their families since their arrival on the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

His role in ending the crisis without loss of blood earned him recognition as ABC News' Person of the Week, “a man of compassion, gentility and commitment...a man with a strong personality and humble spirit.”

When the press began calling him a hero, Bishop Román responded with his characteristic humility: “A bishop, a priest, is a servant, not a hero.”

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