asylum for Haitian refugees.
"How can I not want for others in similar circumstances all the benefits I found?" wrote the one-time refugee. "How can I be indifferent to their tragedy, when I see in the eyes of those Haitians the same bewildered look I had in mine when I arrived in Spain, the same desperate look I see in the eyes of my brothers, the Cuban rafters?"
Almost to the end, Roman lived an ascetic life. His long-time home: a small chamber and tiny kitchen next door to La Ermita.
Awake at 5:45 a.m. Breakfast: salt-free, sugar-free bread. Back in bed at 12:30 a.m., the time between filled shepherding his flock.
This lifestyle seemed at odds with his local fame. "I remember the words of the Lord," Roman said, quoting from Matthew 23:11,12. " "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.' "
During his working years, he was not known ever to have indulged in a vacation. He never refused a call or visit. He did not believe in answering machines. He finally scaled back his work at the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Roman suffered from persistent cardiac disorders, survived several heart attacks and, in 1992, quadruple-bypass surgery. He also battled diabetes.
His influence permeated the Cuban exile and Roman Catholic communities, and extended well beyond them.
In the early 1960s, Roman led the campaign to build La Ermita de la Caridad. He asked each exile for 10 cents. He ended up collecting $240,000.
The shrine, on South Miami Avenue along the edge of Biscayne Bay, opened in 1967. It attracts almost 500,000 visitors a year.
Roman found himself thrust into the national spotlight when he served as a key mediator during the Mariel prisoner uprisings at prisons in Atlanta and Oakdale, La. Refugees at both rioted and seized hostages after learning they might be deported after serving their time.
His help sought by the White House, Roman spoke with the prisoners at Oakdale. He addressed them as "dear brothers" and assured them that a deal offered by authorities was fair and just. In minutes, they surrendered.
A week later, Roman and his attorney and close friend, Rafael Penalver, walked into the besieged prison in Atlanta. Alone. Angry prisoners lurked everywhere.
Their lives in jeopardy, Roman whispered to Penalver: "Bless you, and put yourself in the hands of the Virgin."
The armed prisoners all dropped their shivs on a pile. Roman kept one of the weapons in his home, framed, a gift from the federal government.
USA Today called Roman the "crisis hero." Two Hollywood movie producers sought the rights to his story.
Roman declared himself baffled by this. "Hero? Me? I don't think so. Maybe the people are confused."
He sought to draw and share lessons from the experience.
"To the American people, on behalf of the Mariel detainees, I ask your forgiveness," he said when it was over. "I know that it is not the American way to take over a building to make a point, but neither is it the American way to detain prisoners after they have served their sentence."
For the wider South Florida community, Roman served as an advocate of reconciliation. He was active in the Haitian and African-American communities, and maintained links with Jewish and Protestant leaders.
Agustin Roman was born May 5, 1928, in a small house in the countryside of Havana province. His father, Rosendo Roman, was a farm worker.
Roman was a quiet, asthmatic child. Illness kept him out of school until age 8.
He studied philosophy at the San Alberto Magno Seminary in Matanzas, and then traveled to Montreal to study theology at the Seminary of Foreign Missionaries.
Ordained on July 5, 1959, he worked in backwater Cuban parishes. The next two years were difficult in a country turning Marxist, but Roman was never tempted to leave.
But then, Roman and 132 other priests was rounded up by Castro's henchmen, loaded at gunpoint aboard a ship and sent to Spain.
Months later, he traveled to Chile to work with the poor. In 1966, his sister, Iraida, left her husband and Cuba to move to Miami with her two children. Roman joined her in Miami.
An outsider within the church hierarchy and one of its few Hispanics, he was made associate pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral. As the exile community grew roots, he moved steadily up through the ranks, becoming auxiliary bishop in 1979.
"I would like to see Cuba before I die," Agustin Roman said several years ago. "But I know that when I am in heaven, I will see Cuba even better."
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