.- The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approved a decree on the heroic virtues of Cuban priest Father Felix Varela, moving him one step closer to being declared “venerable.”
“The vote of the commission of cardinals and bishops was positive, and that means that now the prefect of the congregation of saints has to go to the Pope for his authorization to proclaim the decree on heroic virtues,” explained Brother Rodolfo Meoli, the postulator of the cause for Fr. Felix's beatification.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, who heads the congregation, presided over the plenary meeting and vote which took place in Rome on March 6.
In an interview with CNA on March 7, Br. Meoli said it is uncertain when Pope Benedict will approve the decree, but many think it will take place during the pontiff's March 25-28 trip to Cuba.
“I am thinking of calling Cardinal Amato to meet soon and find out if he plans to present the documentation before the Pope’s visit to Cuba,” he said.
“Generally, when the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints presents a decree to the Pope, he usually presents other decrees as well, and this can cause a delay.”
Br. Meoli said that as soon as the announcement about Fr. Varela’s heroic virtues was made, he called Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana.
He also called Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine in Florida, where Fr. Varela died, and Bishop Anthony DiMarzio of Brooklyn – vice postulator of the cause – where the Cuban priest lived for many years.
“I am very happy,” Br. Meoli said. “Everyone responded with great enthusiasm hoping that the Pope will proclaim Felix Varela venerable when he goes to Havana.”
Felix Varela Morales was born in Havana on November 20, 1788. He was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his grandparents. At the age of 23, he was ordained a priest and devoted himself to teaching.
In 1821 he was elected to represent of the Spanish colony of Cuba before the government of Madrid. He left for Spain that year, never imagining that he would never again return to Cuba.
Fr. Varela made three proposals to the Spanish crown that would lead to his exile. He called for the abolition of slavery, for Cuban independence and for self-rule for the colonies in the Caribbean.
With the outbreak of Absolutism in Spain in 1823, Varela fled Madrid and was denied entry into Cuba. He was forced to settle in New York, where he worked as a pastor and eventually as vicar general. He continued speaking out and writing for the defense of human rights and freedom for Cuba.
His poor health forced him to move to St. Augustine, Florida, where he spent the last four years of his life. He died on February 25, 1853.
Br. Meoli emphasized that the priest's dedication to politics “should be understood within the context of his vocation to the service of God and to his homeland.”
He also observed that Fr. Varela could serve as an important figure of unity between Cuba and the United States, which are locked in an ideological conflict.
“From the spiritual point of view, he is on both sides,” he said. While he was in Cuba, Fr. Varela worked as a philosopher, educator and writer. While in New York, “he worked to defend Catholicism from the Protestant majority.”
Fr. Varela additionally played a key role in teaching the faith to immigrants. “He kept them in the faith. He founded churches, orphanages and schools, and he was devoted to ministry for the poor, the uneducated and the marginalized,” Br. Meoli said.