CARLOS MANUEL CECILIO
Carlos Manuel Rodríguez was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico on November 22, 1918. His parents Manuel Baudilio Rodríguez and Herminia Santiago, both came from large families with strong Christian roots.
Carlos Manuel was baptized at the Sweet Name of Jesus Church in Caguas on May 4, 1919. He was the second of five brothers and sisters. Two of his sisters married, while another is a Carmelite nun. His only brother is a Benedictine priest, and was the first Puerto Rican to become the abbot of a monastery.
‘Chali’ as a six years old, experienced a terrible loss: a terrible fire destroyed both his father’s small store and the family home. Having lost virtually all of their earthly goods, the young family moved in with Carlos Manuel’s maternal grandparents. Carlos Manuel was thereby strongly influenced by his grandmother, Alejandrina Esterás, a deeply devout and holy woman.
Carlos Manuel’s father, Manuel Baudilio, endured the loss good-naturedly. Hope and faith never left him until his death in 1940. Doña Herminia not being in a house of her own, imposed upon herself and her children a strong sense of respect, to a point of inhibition. This contributed to the reserved and timid personality of her children. Nonetheless, Herminia had the virtue of a serene happiness that was brightened up by her faith. Her relationship with the Lord was nourished by daily Eucharistic encounters.
So it was that – at a young age and in the heart of his own family - Carlos received his first lessons in Catholic faith and life. At the age of six he began his schooling at the Catholic School of Caguas, where he remained until completing eighth grade. It was there that he would come into contact with the Sisters of Notre Dame. He cultivated a special friendship with them during his entire life. Under their tutelage – as well as that of the Redemptorist Fathers – he received his initial religious and humanistic education.
His reception of Christ for the first time in the Holy Eucharist would mark the beginning of a love that would last a lifetime. He became an altar boy, and began to experience the riches of the faith through the sacred liturgy of the Church. It is likely that it was at this time that he felt the initial call to live a life entirely dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ.
When he graduated from eighth grade in 1932, he was first in his class and won a medal for his Religion. He then went on to study at the public Gautier Benítez High School in Caguas. But shortly after, he experienced the first symptoms of what would later become a severe gastrointestinal disorder: ulcerative colitis. This illness would cause him much suffering and inconvenience for the rest of his life. Nevertheless it never undermined his commitment to Christ and His Church.
Carlos Manuel began his third year of high school (1934-35) at the Perpetual Help Academy in San Juan. There he renewed his contact with the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Redemptorist Fathers. His health, however, rendered him unable to continue studying there. Thus back in Caguas, he worked for some time, finally earning his High School diploma, in both the commercial and scientific areas, by May 1939.
He continued working as an office clerk until 1946, when he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Río Piedras. However, despite excellent grades and his love for studies, illness prevented him from completing his second year. The end of formal education, however, did not mark the end of his education. As his friends at the UPR - who began to call him ‘Charlie’ would later recall – his studies really never ended. He was a voracious reader, and his interests were wide-ranging, including the arts, science, philosophy, religion and music. In fact, although he only took piano lessons for a year, he continued to learn on his own, to the point where he was able to not only play the piano, but also the church organ. The sacred music he loved so much!
Nature was another of his great loves. As a child, he would spend summer vacations in the countryside. He often made day trips to the river or to the beach with his siblings. As an adult, he organized leisurely hikes with his family through the countryside. They would travel light - with modest provisions for food – and yet a great desire to commune with God’s creation.
Carlos Manuel worked as an office clerk in Caguas, Gurabo and at the Agriculture Experiment Station, which was part of the UPR. There he also translated documents from English to Spanish. He spent almost his entire modest salary to promote knowledge and love of Christ. He did this especially promoting a greater understanding of the significance of the Sacred Liturgy. Using articles on liturgical subjects which he himself translated and edited, Carlos Manuel began publishing Liturgy and Christian Culture, publications to which he dedicated innumerable hours.
Increasingly convinced that “the liturgy is the life of the Church,” (through proclamation of the Word, the Eucharist and the “mysteries of Christ” or sacraments), he organized along with Father McWilliams in Caguas a Liturgy Circle. Later on, in 1948, he assembles along with Father McGlone the parroquial chorus Te Deum Laudamus.
In Río Piedras, where brother Pepe and sister Haydée were already UPR faculty members, Carlos was able to achieve his ardent desire to make Christ known, among professors and students. As his disciples grew in number he moved into nearby Catholic University Center and organized another Liturgy Circle (later called the Círculo de Cultura Cristiana).
He continued his publications and also organized his notable Christian Life Days for the benefit of University students who sought to understand and enjoy the liturgical seasons. He participated in panels on various topics, and distinguished himself for his insistent emphasis on the importance of liturgical life, as well as the paschal meaning of life and death in Christ.
Carlos Manuel organized discussion groups in various towns, and participated in societies such as the Brotherhood of Christian Doctrine, the Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus. He also taught Catechism to high school students whose teaching aids he supplied from his own income.
He zealously promoted and stood for liturgical renewal, among bishops, clergy and laymen: active participation of laity, the use of the vernacular and – most especially – the observance of his much loved Paschal Vigil, which to Charlie’s delight was restored to its proper time near midnight by Pope Pius XII in 1952. Of note, all of Carlos Manuel’s proactive lay apostolic activity took place prior to the Second Vatican Council, thus a veritable preconciliar apostle towards approval of the Sacrosanctum concillium, at its onset.
Many a good number of people testify to their growth of a living faith thanks to his teachings, in conjunction with the integrity of his life and exemplary service. Others testify that Carlos Manuel’s zeal for Christ awakened in them their vocation to religious life. Those who sought him out in order to clarify their doubts -- or seek to strengthen their faith –would never be disappointed.
To approach Carlos Manuel and to getting to know him was as if to approach a light that illuminated one’s perspective of life and its meaning. His glance and smile revealed the certain joy of Easter. An enormous spiritual strength transcended his fragile physical constitution. The firm conviction of his faith allowed him to overcome his natural shyness, and he spoke with assurance resembling Saint Peter’s on Pentecost. Despite his failing health for so many years, no complaints ever clouded the joy with which he faced life. He reminded us that the Christian must be joyful because he or she lives the joy and hope that Christ gave with His Resurrection: VIVIMOS PARA ESA NOCHE – he would say.
His physical strength declined gradually, but his spirit never failed. He lived each moment quietly overcoming his pain with the profound joy of one who knows himself to be resurrected. Following an aggressive “life saving: surgery in 1963 he turned out to have advanced terminal rectal cancer. Near the end, he experienced the “dark night of faith”, thinking himself abandoned by God, a known mystical experience. Yet, before dying, he rediscovered the Word he had lost, and which had given sense to his entire life. His passage to eternal life took place on July 13, 1963. He was 44. “The 13th is a good day,” he had said a few days before his death, without any of us having a notion of what that meant. Now we know.
Charlie’s Beatification Process was indeed a swift one! Initiated in 1992, the positio on heroic virtues, lead to his status as Venerable as of July 7, 1997. The miracle for his beatification (cure of non-Hodgkins malignant lymphoma back in 1981) was approved on December 20,1999 by HH John Paul II. Thus, a record-making eight-year span, a first for lay actors!