Father Felix Varela: Cause for Canonization Gains Momentum

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros is the first to admit he didn’t know much about Felix Varela as a young man growing up in Cuba. 

But now he’s spearheading Varela’s cause for sainthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“He was a voice that spoke for the Church with kindness, with gentleness, but with forcefulness,” Bishop Cisneros said. Varela was a Cuban politician, scientist, musician, journalist, and priest. 

He represented Cuba in the Spanish parliament, but was outspoken on issues like ending slavery and freeing the Spanish colonies. He was eventually sentenced to death and exiled. 

He left his affluent upbringing and education behind and came to New York City in the 1820s to minister to mostly Irish immigrants who were living in poverty. 

Bishop Cisneros and Father Christopher Heanue, the coordinator of the Irish Apostolate in the Diocese of Brooklyn, held a gala to raise awareness for varela’s cause for sainthood. 

“He comes to New York and he faces the immigrant population, the poor, hungry, sick and he becomes the priest, the pastor, the shepherd to help the people of New York at that time,” Bishop Cisneros said. “He truly is an example for all of us in New York today.” 

“Does a parishioner at St. Mel’s know him? Does someone at the co-cathedral know him? You can’t make someone a saint without people praying for his intercession,” Father Heanue said. 

He was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI and now those with a devotion to Varela are waiting on a miracle to confirm his beatification. 

They’re hopeful because Varela unites Cuba, Ireland, and New York City under one Catholic Church.

“What unites him to all of those locations is the one holy and apostolic faith, which is the Catholic Church,” Father Heanue said. “So the fact that you can feel at home anywhere in the world as long as you’re participating in something larger and more noble than any country, state president, or king.” 

As New York City accommodates a surge of migrants, Bishop Cisneros and Father Heanue say Felix Varela’s legacy is a poignant reminder of what the newly arrived need most. 

“We need someone who will advocate for these newly arrived immigrants who will fight for them and treat them with dignity and respect,” Father Heanue said. “There’s been a call to recognize people’s dignity and humanity and advocate for the poor and needy is a great lesson learned.” 

This year marks 200 years since Varela arrived in New York City and Saturday, Sept. 23, is the 170th anniversary of his death. 

A miracle that would confirm Varela’s beatification is currently being investigated by the Congregation of Saints.

Father Varela has forever made his mark in the Diocese of Brooklyn. A new center named after the Cuban priest was dedicated on Friday. 

Bishop Cisneros blessed the food pantry and soup kitchen named after the possible future saint, as well as the workers who will be feeding the poor and the homeless every week at the soup kitchen and every month at the food pantry. 

The center was part of the feast celebration of the patron of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona, Queens.

The parish processed with an image of the blessed mother ahead of the opening. Afterward they attended Mass and then came back out on the street for a party.