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Shrine a giant tribute to bishop and his devout Cuban parishioners.

COCONUT GROVE, Fla. -- After I knocked on the door to Bishop Roman's office at a sparkling Catholic shrine built by his fellow Cuban exiles, the most Prominent Cuban in the American church appeared and let me in.

Father Agustin A. Roman, 64, auxiliary bishop of the Miami archdiocese, is a devout theologian. He also is a man of action.

In 1987 he burst onto the national scene when he negotiated a peaceful end to uprisings at two federal prisons where Cuban refugees from the Mariel boat lift were detained.

Asked by the archdiocese's newspaper La Voz whether he'd been afraid while negotiating with nearly 2,100 inmates, Roman said: "Afraid of what? They all came to meet me, crying, and asking me for their blessing. I told them I came as a brother to brothers, as a pastor to his sheep."

Roman told La Voz his prison experience wouldn't change him.

"I will be the same that I was before. A prophet, if you wish, that will call constantly (on) my brothers and sisters to not forget again the people of Mariel."

Roman implied that being a hostage negotiator was not the defining moment of his pastoral service. As he recounted his expulsion from Cuba in 1961, Roman, who was ordained six months after Castro took power, spoke of the events as if they'd occurred but a year ago:

"The beginning of the revolution was very hard on the church," Roman said referring to the Castro regime. "There was lots of repression, and the expulsion of the young priests was done to finish the church.

"I was put onto a Spanish-owned boat in Havana in 1961. They came at night for me.... I had no passport, one book and the clothes on my back.... There were 130 priests and one bishop on the boat.

"I was expelled because I was a priest. That was my sin. I've continued with being a priest.... I'm happy with the sin I've committed," said Roman, who served in Chile before joining the Miami archdiocese in 1966.

Our Lady of Charity Shrine is a tribute to Roman and the giant Cuban population in Dade County. eighty percent of Dade's 1.9. million residents are Hispanic and 60 percent of Dade's Hispanics are of Cuban descent. The shrine is named for the Patroness of Cuba. Bishop Carroll in 1966 donated a parcel of land near Biscayne Bay. Parishioners like to say the ocean that flows behind the shrine is the same that laps the shores of Havana.

Like so many other stories about Cuban exiles, the construction of the shrine has intrigue.

A replica of the Lady of Charity statue that is part of the national shrine in El Cobre, Cuba, was smuggled into the United States through the Panamanian Embassy in 1961. The statue is now inside Miami's tribute to the Blessed Virgin.

The shrine has six columns to support the mantel, each representing one of the six provinces of Cuba. Under the altar "there is a stone made of earth, stone and sand brought from the six Cuban provinces and cast with water brought from Cuba on a raft in which 15 refugees perished," the shrine's brochure details. The priest's chair was made from a Cuban palm. The shrine was dedicated in 1973.

Describing the giant mural that dominates the shrine's interior, Roman commented the painting illustrates the story of Cuba's history, including portraits of Cuban political and spiritual leaders. "It has the history of Cuba in one mural. Christ is the center of the mural. Cuban history surrounds the Blessed Mother," he said.
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Title Annotation:Miami, Florida auxiliary Bishop Agustin A. Roman
Author:Slavin, J.P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 15, 1993
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