Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stamp Honors Cuban Activist Padre Varela

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stamp Honors Cuban Activist Padre Varela

Article excerpt

ST. AUGUSTINE -- In a crowded room on a muggy Florida

afternoon, politicians, priests, journalists and dignitaries of

all stripes gathered yesterday to pay tribute to a man who more

than likely would have chaffed at all the fuss.

Indeed, Padre Felix Varela probably would have found more

kinship with the hundreds of ordinary folks who packed the

Flagler College rotunda yesterday just to see a portrait of the

Cuban cleric and social activist, whose image will soon grace a

first-class postage stamp and who might someday be canonized as

a Roman Catholic saint.

The event was held to unveil the 32-cent stamp, which will

go on sale Sept. 15. But for dozens of Cuban-Americans, most of

whom came from South Florida for the ceremony, it was a chance

to tell the world about an extraordinary man who spent part of

his life in St. Augustine.

"He is considered the father of Cuhban independence, but

many people, including many Cubans, do not know much about him,"

said Guillermo Fernandez, who teaches theology at a Miami

seminary. "He taught a generation of Cubans -- the children of

the first Spaniards who came to Cuba -- to think independently,

that they had rights."

The stamp, which depicts a gaunt, bespectacled Varela and the

simple inscription "social reformer," was greeted with wild

applause, whooping and hollering and the waving of hundreds of

tiny Cuban flags.

Over the years, Varela has become a symbol for Cubans fighting

to depose Fidel Castro, who has clamped down on, but has been

unable to eliminate, the Catholic church there.

Ironically, Castro's presence was felt at the ceremony in the

form of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Cuba, who

attended the unveiling, but kept a low profile.

Ortega, who did not sit on the podium, was not named in the

official program and refused to answer reporters' questions

about the political situation in Cuba. As soon as the program

ended, Ortega was hustled out of the rotunda and access was

limited.

Although Cuban clergy members are free to visit the states,

they must watch what they say and do or risk reprisal when they

return, said Jose Menendez, a Miami priest. …

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