MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Bishop Agustin Román, the first Cuban to be appointed bishop in the United States was laid to rest Saturday after passing away from a heart attack on Wednesday night.

Bishop Román’s body was taken from the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity via a procession through the streets of Miami. During the procession, Bishop Román’s body and the statue of Our Lady of Charity slowly moved through the city allowing the community to say goodbye to the beloved bishop.

The procession ended at the Cathedral of St. Mary located at 7525 NW 2nd Avenue in Miami.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrated a funeral Mass at the cathedral which was followed by the internment of Bishop Román’s body at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th Street in Miami.

Archbishop 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 impacted 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.

Román served as a mediator during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, when Fidel 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.

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.


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