MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Public viewing continues Friday for Agustin Román, the first Cuban to be appointed bishop in the United States.

He died in Miami Wednesday night after suffering a heart attack. The public viewing is taking place at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, located at 3609 South Miami Avenue. Archbishop Thomas Wenski will lead a funeral Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary, located at 7525 NW 2nd Avenue at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by an internment at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski called Román a “great patriot” to the Cuban nation.

Miami Mayor Thomas Regalado said, “he never asked to be a leader, but he was the leader of the Cuban community.”

Those who knew the Bishop called him, “approachable.” Tresa Espejo said, “he made a big impact in my life. He changed my life when I was going through a crisis.”

He even the life of Archbishop Wenski who said Roman mentored and taught him.

“I knew Bishop Roman from when I was young seminarian,” recalled Wenski. “When I was ordained a priest in 1976 he preached my first mass.

Bishop Román made his last public appearance on Easter Sunday, after Pope Benedict XVI honored the Cuban-born Rev. Varela by bringing him closer to sainthood.

Officials say Román and 132 other priests were expelled from Cuba in 1961. He arrived in Miami, where he became a spiritual leader and advocate first for Cuban exiles and later for many other immigrants, including Haitian refugees. He also worked closely with protestant and Jewish leaders.

“The Archdiocese of Miami has lost a great evangelizer who tirelessly preached the Gospel to all. And the Cuban nation has lost a great patriot,” Wenski said in a statement.

Román served as a mediator during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, when Castro allowed more than 100,000 Cubans to flee by sea to the U.S. He also helped negotiate a peaceful end to a 1986 riot of Cuban detainees at federal prisons in Georgia and Louisiana. He later sought to convince Cuban-Americans to support asylum for Haitian refugees.

“Like so many of the people that he served, Bishop Román was forced from his homeland and found opportunity and a new life on our shores,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in a statement. “He was a pillar of the Cuban exile community and a relentless defender of the human rights of all immigrants. He will be missed – and fondly remembered – by all of us who were fortunate to have known him.”

“The passing of Monsignor Román is 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,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “He was an advocate for God, for fundamental freedoms, and for those whom society had sometimes forgotten.”

During his early years in Miami, he urged exiles to donate what little they could afford to build the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on Biscayne Bay. It became a beacon for exiles and to this day attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and remains a gathering point for many Cuban-Americans during moments of political crisis.

The shrine holds a replica of a statue of Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. This year marks 400 years since she first appeared in old copper mining town on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

After being expelled from Cuba, Román first went to Spain then Chile before eventually arriving in Miami. He retired as auxiliary bishop of Miami when he turned 75 on May 5, 2003, as required under canon law. He remained active at the Shrine, where he was often found greeting visitors and responding to letters from fellow Cuban exiles. It was there that he suffered the heart attack.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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