Above: Felix Varela
Image in the Public Domain
VENERABLE FELIX VARELA (NOVEMBER 20, 1788-FEBRUARY 27, 1853)
Cuban Roman Catholic Priest and Patriot
I have always concluded that Christianity and liberty are inseparable.
–Felix Varela, Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 91
Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) agreed with that perspective.
The Venerable Felix Varela was an important figure in Cuban history. He, born in Havana on November 20, 1788, grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, with his maternal grandfather. Our saint, ordained to the priesthood in 1811, taught philosophy, physics, music, theology, and chemistry at San Carlos College, Havana. In 1821 Varela became a delegate to the Cortes in Madrid. He introduced two crucial bills–one to abolish slavery in Cuba and another to grant Cuban independence. For this alleged sedition Varela had to go into exile in 1823.
Our saint spent the rest of his life in exile. In New York City he served as a priest. In 1827 he founded the Church of Immigrants, later renamed the Church of the Transfiguration. He also lobbied for Cuban independence via the Spanish-language newspaper he founded. This activism concerned the Spanish government sufficiently to send an assassin, but Varela talked him out of committing the act. Our saint, who became the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York in 1837, received his doctorate in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. The defender of the rights of immigrants also considered the lack of religiosity to be a threat to the moral fabric of society and antecedent of tyranny. He also criticized Roman Catholics who opposed liberty and constitutional government, for he argued that the suppression of liberty leads to fanaticism and dogmatism.
Varela retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he died on February 27, 1853. He was 64 years old.
The Roman Catholic Church declared Varela a Venerable in 2012.
The cause for his beatification and canonization is in progress.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET
THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR
THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.
Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and make no peace with oppression.
Help us, like your servant Venerable Felix Varela,
to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60