Thirteen years ago today on April 29, 2001, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago was beatified by His Holiness (now Saint) John Paul II. “He was the first Puerto Rican, the first Caribbean-born layperson and the first layperson in the history of the United States to be beatified.“
At the core of Blessed Carlos’ spirituality (Pope John Paul II said) was his faith in the Resurrection. He promoted the Easter Vigil as the defining moment of Christian spiritual life, repeating often, “We live for that night.” (Vivimos para esa Noche)
In 2001 I was deeply honored and humbled to be commissioned by the archbishop of San Juan, Monsignor Roberto González Nieves, to paint the official portrait of Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, to be given as a gift from Puerto Rico to the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City where it is exhibited in the Hall of Saints.
The Portrait is painted with various symbolic elements which express a visual prayer that “speaks to the eye” of what it was that helped bring Blessed Carlos Manuel to such an intimate connectedness to our Lord and Savior. The absolute serenity and joy in Charlie’s look is the faith that we seek, the faith that seeks us.
That was my second portrait of Blessed Carlos Manuel. I had first learned about him from Padre Julio Victor García Padrón when in the year 2000 he commissioned me to paint Charlie’s portrait for San Francisco Javier Church in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.
This is the painting which later inspired the archbishop of San Juan to commission a portrait for the Vatican.
I painted these portraits within a harmony of interlacing symbolic elements which express an image of prayer, emerging from the darkness into the light of hope, drenching believers in the love of God.
Major Contemplative Elements in the Portraits
The Book – the Word (John 1:1-5)
The Necktie – the Wise Men / vision, wisdom (Matthew 2:1, 2)
The Necktie Knot – the Voice / Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4)
The Cross – Sacrifice / Redemption (John 3:16)
The Open Door – the Church (Matthew 7:7-14)
Mary, Mother of God – Love and Sacrifice (Luke 3:34-35)
The Star – the omnipresence of God’s Love (Matthew 2:9-10)
The Pascal Candle – Faith / “Vivimos para esa Noche”
The Candle Flame – Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12)
The Empty Tomb – the triumph over sin (Romans 6:23)
The Dawn – the Resurrection (John 11:25-26)
The Lamb – the Second Coming (Revelation 22:20, 21)
“Charlie’s” Look – the Good News radiates in the “look” of Blessed Carlos Manuel
Prior to painting the portraits I had the great honor to meet with Carlos Manuel’s sisters, Hna Haydée and Titay, who told me that “Charlie” mostly wore a flamboyant necktie. In my paintings I transformed his necktie symbolically into the Wise Men from the Christmas narrative in Bethlehem, portraying them emanating from the Bible. The idea was that Carlos Manuel was also a wise seeker of wisdom and truth. The symbol on the knot of the necktie signifies the Truth given to him through the Holy Spirit which he spoke most eloquently.
“We need Catholics who are alert to the present moment … modern Catholics who know how to nourish themselves in the past but whose eyes are fixed on the future.”— Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago
EWTN Interview with the artist “The Church in Puerto Rico: Blessed Charlie”
This beautiful song was written by Norma T. Diaz Camacho, a disciple of Blessed Carlos Manuel, and director of the “Coro Peregrino” which sang this song during the Beatification Ceremony at the Vatican in 2001.
“We owe Charlie far more than he owes us” (a true story by Father Bernard F. McWilliams C.SS.R.)