Quote of the day: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.”

St-Anthony-Mary-Claret

Today is a rare day for Cubans: a saint’s feast day that involves an Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

It’s the feast day of St. Antonio Maria Claret, a 19th-century Spanish missionary priest  who is known as the “spiritual father of Cuba.”

Claret was born  in Sallent, Catalonia, near Barcelona.  Much to his surprise, however, he ended up serving as Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba from 1849 to 1857, a most turbulent time in the history of the island.

Claret’s achievements in the diocese of Santiago were remarkable, but controversial.  Slavery was still very much in place in Cuba, and his diocese had a very large African population.  Spanish exploitation and racism were deeply entrenched, and so was rural poverty.  Claret made it his mission to visit every parish in his diocese (an extremely rare thing for any Spanish-appointed bishop), to denounce concubinage and adultery (which were rampant), to establish trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He  brought missionary priests, monks, and nuns from Spain, visited jails and hospitals, defended the rights of workers to a decent living, and denounced racism.

Claret preached ceaselessly, improved the training of priests, promoted religious instruction, and  engaged in constant pastoral work.  Records show that he confirmed over 100,000 people and married over 9,000 couples.

Claret quickly became aware of the unique fertility of the Cuban soil and  took an interest in developing new agricultural methods and in making the island less dependent on the cultivation of sugar and more independent of Spanish control.  A proponent of crop diversification and of the creation of self-subsistent family farms, Claret soon ran into trouble.  Much like present-day dissidents in Castrogonia who oppose the government’s monopoly, Claret was vilified, ridiculed, harassed,  physically abused, and targeted for murder.    One potential assassin even managed to stab him.

Recalled to Spain against his wishes by Queen Isabela II, he spent his remaining years obediently serving as her confessor.  When the Spanish monarchy was overthrown in 1868, he followed the queen into exile in France, where he died two years later at the age of 63.

Known for his prophetic statements, Claret once declared that Cuba would some day be ruled by a tyrant whose dictatorship would last for “more than forty years.”  He also predicted this dictator would die from internal bleeding.

His final words, inscribed on his tombstone, can certainly resonate with many  Cubans today: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.”

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity, El Cobre,  one of the first sites visited by St. Antonio Claret upon his arrival in Santiago
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity, one of the first sites visited by St. Antonio Claret upon his arrival in Cuba

From Franciscan Media:

Saint Antonio Maria Claret

The “spiritual father of Cuba” was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Catalan Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council.

In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers.

He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians.

He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights.

He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony.

All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets.

At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, “There goes a true saint.” At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.