If you read my previous entry on the death of Bishop Agustín Román, Auxilary Bishop of Miami last Wednesday evening, you will likely not be surprised that I still carry the image of that loving and deeply caring bishop with me. On Saturday, the Church and the people whom he loved and served said good-bye to him in a style and manner which would have clearly been an embarrassment for him. After long hours of people passing by his body which laid in rest at his beloved Ermita de la Neustra Señora de la Caridad (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity), his body was driven through the streets of Little Havana to the Cathedral of St. Mary for the funeral Mass and hundreds lined the streets throughout the procession route.
I was able to be present only by deeply disappointing the parents of and confirmandi at the first county-wide celebration of Confirmation in Citrus county history. Since I had asked for the favor of a combined ceremony, it was deeply embarrassing to miss it and I apologize to the parents, sponsors, confirmandi and priests of the county. But I felt I needed to be in Miami to prayerfully say farewell to a great man, priest and bishop. The liturgy was lovely, totally in Spanish, and the Cathedral full to overflowing. The relatively newly appointed Papal Nuncio to the United States of American, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was also present representing the Holy Father which is unusual for anyone other than cardinals and archbishops of larger sees who die.
When the casket was carried into the Cathedral, the congregation welcomed it with vigorous applause. Several times during the homily of Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the congregation responded with sustained, prolonged applause for their dear bishop. I gazed at the body lieing on the floor of the sanctuary and thought to myself, +Agustín, your legacy is guaranteed and your love will not soon be forgotten.
In the earlier blog, I wrote one of many stories in my mind about the bishop being out very late at night. There was another time when the Spanish Cursillo group would hold large Masses in the Chapel of St. John Vianney College Seminary where I was Rector on Sunday nights. They filled the place every time and when it rained as it often does in South Florida, they thought nothing of driving their cars straight up the lawn from the front entrance to let off or pick up their family members leaving deep tire tracks embedded in the lawn carefully manicured and cared for by the seminarians on their work-list days. One night I had had quite enough and with umbrella in hand I was out scolding those driving on “my” lawn. I knew it would make little behavioral difference but I sure felt better. Bishop Román, the celebrant that evening watched me rant at the cars turning my lawn into a mudpit and when they had left he searched me out in my room to first apologize and then said, “but Bob, remember that grass grows anytime here but the faith was being cultivated tonight and it might not last past your upset.” He was right, as always, and gently chided I took to heart his words and never again thought about whatever they might or might not do when they came to clausura on their (not mine) seminary property. In a quiet moment, I looked down at his casket before the altar and on the floor and quietly said, +Agustín, come to rest whereever you wish.
I needed to be back in St. Petersburg by 6:30pm so a four o’clock return flight was essential. I could not stay with him through the final commendation and transfer to Mercy Cemetary. I shall always regret that in my remaining years. In the first year I was ordained a priest (1978), the crusty old Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami, Monsignor John Donnelly, said to me once, “young man, you really find out who your friends are if they come to the cemetary. The funeral Mass is easy but the cemetary – there your true friends gather.”
Bishop Román was a saint. He likely will never be officially declared this by the Church but everyone who knew him, was around him, was ministered to by him – we all know it. He sets a standard for episcopal ministry so high that most of us do not have even a chance. I shall always be grateful that even if only for a short while in my priestly life, in Miami, he and I walked the same aisles, myself unworthy even to tie his shoe. Rest in peace, +Agustín.