"The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal (Sirach 35:21)."
This past week, the Catholic Church in Miami lost one of the great priests in the history of the Archdiocese: Monsignor Emilio Vallina, the longtime pastor of St. John Bosco. He built up the first Hispanic parish in Miami out of a car dealership in 1962. He opened his arms to his fellow Cuban immigrants, and many years later, kept them open as Nicaraguan, Honduran, Salvadoran and countless others from Latin America in that poor neighborhood in Little Havana. This humble man was a giant among his brother priests. On this Priesthood Sunday, I can’t help but recall all “the giants” who have been called home to the Lord over the last several years.
Monsignor Vallina was ordained the same year as the priest who baptized me: Monsignor Luis Perez, the longtime pastor of San Lazaro in Hialeah and the familiar face who fervently led the rosary before every Our Lady of Charity Mass. Msgr. Perez worked well into his 80s and even at an advanced age took on the arduous task of going to do mission work in Mexico.
In a name that is not familiar down here in Dade County but in Broward is as thunderous as his commanding voice, Father Gabriel O’Reilly was told 40 years ago to go build the parish of St. David in horse country in Davie just west of Fort Lauderdale. He literally began celebrating Mass in a bar and before you knew it he had built a church, a rectory and school. He was the only pastor that parish had even known when he died this past summer.
I could fill several pages of this bulletin with the heroic work of the priests that built up this Archdiocese that have gone home these last few years: Monsignor Armando Balado, a saintly man who I devoutly served as an altar server, Father Florentino Azcoitia who inspired so many families through Encuentros Familiares, Father Amado Llorente, who quite literally led me to say yes to the priesthood through an Ignatian Retreat, Father Jorge Sardiñas, whose holiness taught me that every Mass was a retreat, Father Armando Perez who labored so hard for Hispanics in Broward County, Father Pepito Garcia who could always be found with a smile on his face visiting the sick at the hospital, and of course, the soul of the Miami presbyterate, Bishop Agustín Román, who was a living saint among us and whose legacy will be remembered in this Archdiocese 100 years from now.
I know that I left out many great priests, but I just wanted to share a few who made a profound impact in my priesthood. Priesthood Sunday is celebrated so that we may appreciate the good work that priests have done in our lives. I invite you today to think about those men who brought you closer to Christ, initiated you into the life of the Church, gave you First Communion, witnessed your marriage, anointed you, absolved you, buried your loved ones, and lived up to their high calling of acting in persona Christi. I am blessed to be a priest because of all these holy men that have gone before me and are now, through our prayers, sharing in their Master’s joy. They are priests forever. We are indebted to each one of them because they made present for us our Savior Jesus Christ. Pray for your priests!