The bell tolls in my little parish. Archbishop Pedro Meurice is dead, my beloved Archbishop, my pastor, my father and my friend. I mourn his death. I feel a huge void, and yet also a great peace. He has rested from his many works, and his physical suffering, and from the weight that bent down his back, the suffering of his people.
There comes to my mind the memory of the funeral Mass for Archbishop Pérez Serantes, whom Bishop Meurice always regarded as a father. “The brave bishop has died, the holy bishop has died, said Monsignor Alfredo Muller, the Bishop of Cienfuegos with deep emotion, and he repeated these words again and again throughout his homily, as if he wanted to remind us and keep those thoughts in our memory forever. That was over forty years ago, and I think those words take on a new meaning today “The brave Bishop has died, The holy Bishop has died.”
Archbishop Meurice was a shy man. Unlike Bishop Enrique Pérez Serantes, a phenomena of nature, with an exuberant, outgoing personality, Meurice was shy. This gave him an air of seriousness. He was a quiet man. He was the perfect secretary,” a man who kept secrets” and he took care of others. But God asked this humble and determined man to “Fill the gap” of his admired and revered pastor. The first reading that he gave at his ordination mass was the text of the calling from Jeremiah: “Behold, I am like a child who barely knows how to speak,” says Jeremiah to God. And God replied: “No matter, you will go where I tell you and what I tell you to say, you will say.
Meurice was humbled by honors and praise. He was humble, from the consciousness, as he so often proclaimed, of his own smallness. He was sincere in saying that. In this he was like Father Varela, an atypical Cuban. We don’t find in him an eagerness to rise to prominence, or a search for applause, or that temptation to be a boss, so common among us. He spoke when he had to and because he had no other choice. This made him a man of few words, however, in his silence he knew how to listen to others. He didn’t show his feelings easily, and he was stubborn, “but one sensed in him a great kindness, a huge capacity for understanding and patience demonstrated in his daily life”.
If we wonder what was the essential ingredient of a personality that was as rich as it was deep, we have to return to his experience of God. Meurice was always a man of prayer. More and more, he was a man of God, a faithful disciple of Jesus who said, “The truth will set you free.” At the end of his life, in the words in which he took leave of his dear parishioners of the Archdiocese of Santiago, as stressed with an enormous power: “Only to God do we give all honor and glory”, perhaps in response to the praises that were given to him, so typical of those circumstances. “It is you priests, nuns and lay people who have done all the work, he said in his farewell. He could forget himself knew because he had learned in the supreme school of prayer. “Humility is truth,” said St. Teresa of Avila, another great apprentice in that same school. Monsignor Meurice was a man who told the truth because he lived in the truth. His commitment to the truth was more than a convenience, even the convenience of the institution he loved, the Church of Jesus. He was clear what Luz y Caballero said about usefulness . “A railroad is useful, but more useful is justice.” His diamond hard commitment to truth and justice, following the example of Jesus, is the ultimate explanation of his proverbial courage, his courage in telling the truth. “We call ourselves Christians because we follow Jesus, who is a person, not an ideology or a moral code ” he told the young. And not just in the words of welcome to the Pope, on that 24 of January, 1998 at the Plaza Antonio Maceo, when the people cheered thirteen times in a text of just two pages. The unforgettable sermons of the “Evening Mass of the Resurrection” in the cathedral of Santiago, in the major liturgical celebrations of the Virgin in the Basilica del Cobre and homilies in the most humble parishes throughout the diocese, were a continuous call to hope and reconciliation, to live with truth and with love. His words, and his example, helped us to face the worst moments, the greatest difficulties, with faith and courage.
Without a doubt, an enormous love of Cuba inspired his words to the people of God. From his words and writings, could be the praise that was given by José de la Luz y Caballero to our famous Father Varela: “Only a charity so ardent and pure as that which animates his pen could have inspired so much courage and modesty even in rebuking, as much heat and sustained anointing as persuasion. Only the man who has spent his life practicing all the evangelical virtues with the fervor of the apostles, would be able to paint virtue in its vivid colors as he does, by modeling the original which resides in his heart. Marti gave this highest praise to Agramonte, which I can also apply to Bishop Maurice: “He never humiliated himself or others. He deeply respected other people. During the worst of the special period, his continued preoccupation with feeding the poor, his long hours of listening to the most impoverished, and helping them materially and spiritually led him to give the order that the parishes should not send their customary contribution to the Archbishop but should give it to the poor instead. He well understood the voice of the voiceless, because he lived his entire life listening to them. And for this he was their most legitimate spokesperson. As Marti said of the Venezuelan Cecilio Acosta “He refused many times to defend the powerful, but not those who were the most bereaved. In his eyes the weakest were his friends, and the most needy was his master.
But no one can live immersed in such pressure without paying a price. His health failed. In his later years as head of the Archdiocese, he lived a long dark night that sometimes prevented him from even speaking in public. When he was invited to various parishes, he would tell the priest: “I will do the, but you do the preaching.” After his retirement, In the Basilica of El Cobre, he divided his time between visits to the poor and the long daily times of prayer. The wisdom of the heart is learned on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And like Moses, “he stood firm, like one who can see the Invisible He knew how to embrace the cross of his Lord. God offered the ultimate gift: to spend the final three years of life in El Cobre, near the former St. Basil’s Seminary, where he had spent his childhood and youth. He was so concerned with the temple, who loved the Mother of God and was a faithful custodian of her image for so many years as Archbishop of Santiago, there he went to rest from his many works.
At the feet of mother Mary, in his other home, built penny by penny by her children in exile, he was to spend his last days. As he so often proclaimed, “We are one people, here and their Meurice became a sacrament of unity for the entire Cuban people, a real bridge (like the Pontiff, a word which derives from the Latin for bridge), a sign of unity and reconciliation between the two sides of the Straits of Florida. His death leads us to proclaim high and wide his quiet and meritorious work in this regard. Everyone was in his heart and he came to be in the hearts of all, both here and there. Therefore, his death is his last sermon, his last service to the country and to the Church. Because Cuba could not be Cuba without the brothers that are outside of the country.
Father Meurice chose as his ministry theme some of the last words of the Bible: the cry “Come, Lord Jesus” is the cry of the persecuted Church and the humiliated Christians, “who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb “, the cry of the Spirit, and the Bride, asking the Lord Jesus to come, because He will bring salvation. It is the prophetic cry of those who trust in God, “knowing of whom they have relied upon, the only true Messiah and Savior who delivers us from all alienation because he makes us children of the Father and brothers of all men and women on earth. Maurice was a faithful and grateful man. First of all with God. In the important times of his life he gave thanks to God for the family he was given, especially to Sisa, his mother, and for his father, who, because of his early death, he hardly knew. Then for Monsignor Perez Serantes, whose memory he kept alive in his heart, and who was for him a model priest and bishop. To his teachers and trainers of the seminary, for his fellow priests of San Basilio, for whom he served as national president several times. To his brother bishops, whom he always supported with affection, advice and sincere friendship. To the Cuban people and to the Holy Mother Church, of which he was a son and debtor, as well as pastor. He loved his Church and San Luis, his hometown, “The most beautiful town in the world – as he used to say. And that love was reciprocated by the people, with affection and admiration.
There is something missing from this portrayal, which is necessarily incomplete and inadequate. And this is the Father’s sense of humor, his ability to play with words (and not with people, as he has said). There was in him a playful dimension, a very Cuban, very human kind of mischievousness. He was not stiff. He loved to eat. He once said: “He who is not able to enjoy the fruit of the earth is not worthy of drinking the wine of the Kingdom”. At the Archbishop’s table, on the priestly retreats, when he met with his old friends, and when he was traveling, the joking and playful side of the Archbishop would emerge. A Santa Teresa said, “a sad saint would always be a sorry saint. It should be said, when he became uncomfortable about something he could lose his sense of reason, but when he regained control, or if he was wrong, he had the great virtue of recognizing that and asking for forgiveness with humility. “The bamboo is never higher than when it is most bent over, reads a Chinese proverb.
I venture to conclude this recollection of my dear father and pastor, with this quote from Marti, even if the initial verb is strong, and perhaps inappropriate in this case. It would be difficult to hate Maurice! Marti wrote these words upon the death of the Uruguayan poet Juan C. Gomez:
“A man who by his virtue causes others to hate him involuntarily, for the lack of virtue that they feel within, who is seen as an enemy because of his virtue– the moment that one of these men of accomplishment is seen to disappear, these men who are the living conscience and spine of humanity- they are loved and held closely… as if it were feared that despite his golden achievements – when a righteous man dies, humanity is diminished”