Monday, May 3, 2010

If Fidel Castro Had Only Listened To This Man

He taught Fidel Castro. And then his former student forced him to leave Cuba.

But Jesuit Father Amando Llorente—who at one point conceived of creating a religious order of sheepherders—gathered his sheep once more in exile, re-establishing the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria in Miami.

He spent the rest of his priestly ministry "forming Catholics for the church," as he put it, in a paraphrase of Cuban patriot Jose Marti's line that "whoever would build a homeland must build up men."

Father Llorente, 91, died in his sleep April 28 in his home overlooking Biscayne Bay —the John Paul II Retreat House where Agrupacion members meet, a place where people are welcomed by a statue of St. Peter the fisherman casting his nets.

His funeral Mass was scheduled for May 3 at Miami's Gesu Church.

The Agrupacion, or ACU as it is known, is a Christian life community for men who are university graduates and professionals. Its spirituality is based on Jesuit formational principles and Marian consecration. Its goal is to help members attain a Christian balance of professional work, prayer, family life, social life and apostolic service.

Founded in Cuba in 1931, the Agrupacion had been Father Llorente's lifework since he took over as spiritual director in 1952, when its founder died. The group now has chapters in Orlando, Washington, Atlanta and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and its membership is not limited to Hispanics.

Through the Agrupacion, Father Llorente touched not just the men who were members but their families as well.

"We knew that Father Llorente was not eternal, but how sad was the news!" said Clarita Baloyra of Miami. "And what joy for him, to return to the Father the way St. Ignatius did, just as he wanted."

"For our family, Padre Llorente played so many roles: father, grandfather, priest, spiritual director, friend," said Mariano Perez. "Yesterday, our 8-year-old daughter said she had lost one of her best friends and that is the truth. He truly was Christ, in all these different roles, among us and brought our family so much closer to him."

Father Llorente was born in Mansilla Mayor in the Leon region of Spain, on Aug. 24, 1918. He attended the Jesuit high school in Carrion de los Condes de Palencia and, following the example of his older brother, Segundo, who was a Jesuit missionary in Alaska, entered the Jesuit order after graduation.

After completing his philosophy studies in Burgos, Spain, he was sent to Cuba to teach at the famed Colegio de Belen, from 1942 to 1945. That is where he met a high school student named Fidel Castro.

Some believe the two maintained a correspondence even after exile, but Father Llorente remained mum on the subject. He preferred, he said, "to make history and let others write about it."

He left Cuba to continue his theology studies at the Pontifical University of Comillas in Madrid and Heythrop College in London, where he was ordained a priest on Sept. 8, 1948, the feast of Our Lady of Charity.

Assigned again to Cuba in 1950, he was slated to be named principal of Belen when the plans changed and he was assigned instead as director of the Calvary Retreat House in Havana.

He referred to this as his "only trial" in a 1998 interview with La Voz Catolica, the Spanish-language archdiocesan newspaper in Miami, on the occasion of his 80th birthday and his 50th anniversary as a priest.

"God was asking me, like Abraham, 'Sacrifice your son' ... what you most love," Father Llorente told La Voz.

Forced to leave Cuba in 1961, he continued serving as director of the Agrupacion and of the John Paul II Retreat House until his death. 
Link (here) American Catholic News

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