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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Havana born priest who Pope Benedict XVI mentioned during a homily in his recent visit to Cuba has received what many view as the first step toward sainthood.

The Archdiocese of Miami has announced that following the unanimous recommendation of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Pope Benedict has given his approval for Father Felix Varela to be given the status of “venerable.”  The designation means he could be beatified with the recognition of one miracle granted through his intercession, and canonized with the recognition of a second miracle.

“Pope Benedict called Father Felix Varela ‘a shining example’ of the contributions a person of faith can make in building a more just society. Varela in his own words reminds us that ‘there is no authentic fatherland without virtue’,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

According to the Archdiocese, the Father Varela was born in Havana in 1788.   Ordained a priest at the age of 23, he was elected to represent Cuba in the Spanish Parliament in 1821. Among the laws he proposed were one calling for the abolition of slavery and another calling for self-rule for Spain’s colonies in the Americas.

After he was exiled from Cuba in 1823, Father Varela worked for 30 years in the Archdiocese of New York, as vicar general and advocate for Irish immigrants.  He died in St. Augustine, where he also had studied as a child, in 1853. His remains were later moved to the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, where they can be viewed today.


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