Born in Caguas in 1918, few would have believed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago was destined to become the island’s first Catholic saint. Known as “Chali” (which later became Anglicized as “Charlie”), he was an earnest but initially shy boy who struggled with ill health from an early age, seeking solace in scripture and the rituals of the Church. He became a Catholic lay minister at university in the 1940s, preaching all over the island and especially active in the revival of traditional Catholic customs such as the Easter vigil. Tragically, this burgeoning Church career was cut short in 1963 when Rodríguez died of intestinal cancer. Regarded as a deeply spiritual man, what grabbed the Vatican’s attention was a miracle: in 1981, a local woman (and former friend) claimed to have fully recovered from cancer after praying to Charlie. Brought to the attention of the Pope in 1992, the miracle was deemed genuine and the normally tortuously long process of canonization was initiated. Pope John Paul II beatified Rodríguez in April 2001 and he’s well on the way to becoming a fully fledged saint, though the Vatican must confirm one more miracle before that can happen – until then he’s known as the “Blessed”. Not only the first Puerto Rican to be beatified, Charlie was the first layperson in US history and only the second in the western hemisphere to receive that honour.
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