The Auxiliary Bishops of Havana III

by Msgr. Antonio Rodríguez (Father Tony)

Monsignor Evelio Ramos Díaz
He was fifty-three years old when he died in the splendour of the fruitfulness of an episcopal life. Although his health worsened rapidly during the last five months of his life, death proved unexpected for all. A galloping diabetes, which debuted in the first fortnight of July 1976 with the amputation of the small toe of the right foot, was the trigger for diabetic retinopathy that deprived him, from week to week, of vision in both eyes. A hopeful palliation of evil was in the treatment that the Barraqué Institute in Barcelona was to be applied to it. He left for Spain on the afternoon of November 25, 1976, when he stepped on the first rung of the ladder of iberia’s plane, he suffered a massive heart attack. A surprise ambulance was driving him to the Cardiovascular Hospital of Vedado, when he died, just as he reached the entrance of that center. The great Jesuit father José Manuel Millares, skillful and pressurized as he alone was, entered through the seat of the driver and applied the aition of the sick before he died. He quickly removed the gold chain on his neck and his episcopal ring.
Man of medium stature, somewhat thick, extremely white skin, straight hair, trigueño, without gray hair and combed back. Thus was the figure of this bishop who invariably wore black trousers and white short-sleeved shirt that fell on the outside; I was walking through the streets of Old Havana, to the Cathedral or the old Seminary or to some cinema where an interesting film was screened that they had no audiences about. He knew the Cuban like no bishop before or after him, he has succeeded. On one occasion, one of those foot-on-foot habaneros who saw him travel often to the Cathedral, told him, “He eats well at INIT, eh?” – the man in marras mistaken him for an employee of the National Institute of the Tourism Industry, whose gastronomic workers dressed in white shirts and black trousers. Msgr. Ramos himself referred to the anecdote in a jocholy manner. That’s how its simplicity was. I never saw him with the bishop’s cassock and only once with the black chest with the clerical neck. His episcopal ring was a silver ring with a black cross in the center, a gift from the Little Brothers of Jesus residing on an agricultural farm in Goines.
For mass in the Cathedral, of which he was parish priest since 1966, it was coated with dawn, the casulla, a simple pectoral was put on the outside and on the head the solideo of purple color. He rarely wore a mitre and never a staff, for at that time the auxiliary bishops did not carry them in the ceremony. It was the Church of the simplicity of those years, from which we drank so many.
With the death of Evelio Ramos the Cuban bishops lost a voice of wisdom and balance. Msgr. Francisco Oves lost his best and loyal friend.
This man was born in Cuatro Caminos de Falcón, as he liked to say, on August 25, 1923. He entered the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio at the age of fourteen. As a seminarian, he nearly died of typhus. One of those sick days, his father, when he went to see him in the hospital, saw the hearse come out and thought, “There goes my son.” This is how Msgr. Ramos was telling this anecdote.
When Cardinal Arteaga was to ordain him a priest on July 11, 1948, he went to the Church of Charity to request the celebration of the ceremony, which also included that of his companion Rolando Laria (December 24, 1962), but they explained that at the same time a funeral would be held. He went to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Queen), and the Jesuits told him that there were no problems; and in it both priests celebrated.
Ordained a priest he was appointed rector of the seminary El Buen Pastor, arroyo Arenas. His life was reduced to the small scope of the direction of a seminary that came to have about one hundred seminarians. There he had the difficult and misunderstood mission of being rector and teacher. He didn’t do any study at universities. In this way, Father Evelio Ramos was not a degree in Philosophy or Theology, much less a doctor; but it was a self-taught in these matters, in which he prepared himself very well and proved it until the moment of his death. He perfectly mastered the English language and spent a summer course in England, in which he studied English literature. He had the ability to read more than one book at a time, and the summaries of his notes, he wrote them in pencil with perfect calligraphy.
I was his student during two courses in several subjects: History of Ancient, Medium and Modern Philosophy; History of Philosophy in Cuba; History of Contemporary Philosophy and Metaphysics. Some critics blame Archbishop Ramos that his courses were very simple. It is true, but for seminarians who will not be philosophers, and who must study Philosophy as a means of understanding some aspects of the later courses in Theology, which is expressed in various philosophical categories, that was enough. In fact, life proves it. I consider myself a medium student of Philosophy; In addition, when Msgr. Ramos died, I was in the middle of the second year of Theology and the rector asked me to replace the late bishop in the classes of these subjects he taught. I felt a great fear, given the scale of what I was asked to do.
The monetary gifts received by Msgr. Ramos when appointed bishop invested them in the printing of several pamphlets of the subjects he taught in the seminary, in the style of those times: copying typing, in a box, and then multiplying them with ink on gazette paper. In this way, each student had as a gift the pamphlet of the subject explained. His writings were a summary of what I consider, the best manual of history of Philosophy until the middle of the twentieth century, written by the Spanish author Manuel García Morente.1 His classes of Metaphysics were synthesized in a small pamphlet, to which he added the latest philosophical and anthropological reflections on the studies of Being (object of the metaphysical study). In this way we were able to learn of the other metaphysics, rather ontology, and to that we did find application in the pastoral life of a priest. The same was the case with regard to the new theological currents of the sixties and seventies.
Evelio Ramos essentially followed Saint Thomas Aquinas, but failed to hide his enthusiasm for French phenomenological studies and existentialist authors. He read to us in classes, as if he were explaining French literature, novels and plays by Jean Paul Sartre and his friend Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Catholic Gabriel Marcell. We were chasing his enjoyable classes.
In May 1966 he received the sad news that el Buen Pastor Seminary was nationalized by the revolutionary government. The military order said it had to be evicted in three days, as building and land were needed for a military unit. Twenty-one years had been the seminary there, on the estate that Cardinal Arteaga had bought for it, precisely in Cuatro Caminos de Falcón, where Msgr. Ramos was born very close. Where to go? Seminarians were sent for the Seminary San Basilio Magno de El Cobre, the furniture and books were stored in the old cardinal palace in order to adapt the old farmhouse of Avenida del Puerto for seminary. Another blow was missing: Msgr. Evelio Ramos was replaced as rector of the center by Father Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.
He was then assigned the position of parish priest of the Santuary of havana Cathedral, as his parish priest, Father Alfredo Petit, was sent to military service in one of the UMAP (Military Production Aid Units), located in the former province of Camaguey. Archbishop Evelio Díaz, Archbishop of Havana, told Msgr. Ramos to reside in the Archbishopric. From that place he went daily to teach his classes in the seminar that opened for the 1966-1967 academic year.
Evelio Ramos’ phrases were laconic, unaltered… were lapidary sentences pronounced from a phlegmatic temperament. He manifested himself as a good connoisseur of the motivations, strategies and tactics of the Revolutionary Government. Before some different people from the state and the Church, Father Ramos said, “They don’t make a story to me, I know them well.” I recall that when the February 1976 referendum, regarding the Constitution to be passed in the same year, two very different priests in their political thinking, Father Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (sympathizer of the Revolution) and Father José Manuel Miyares, SJ, then rector of the seminary, advised that they vote for themselves, both alluded to the same reason “It is better to have a Constitution with many things that we do not like, than to govern without any”, as had been done in practice since the 1st. January 1959. A few seminarians asked Msgr. Ramos, and he said, “To things that are not serious, it doesn’t matter if they are yes or no.”

When Bishop Francisco Oves became Archbishop of Havana on February 10, 1970, he appointed Msgr. Evelio Ramos and Msgr. Fernando Prego as his vicars general. Msgr. Evelio Ramos had already been appointed by Msgr. Evelio Díaz with the title of Monsignor at the end of November 1959. Also at the end of this month, but in 1970, we met that Pope Paul VI appointed Archbishop Evelio Ramos, Bishop of Creo and assistant to the Archbishop of Havana. He continued with the simplicity that characterized him as parish priest of the Shrine of the Cathedral and professor of the seminary of San Carlos.
And so we were all surprised by the bishop’s death. His burial, on the afternoon of Saturday, November 24, gathered about eight hundred people who accompanied him to the Pantheon of Bishops in the Cemetery of Columbus. The farewell of the duel was uttered, with nervously hilarious words, Msgr. Francisco Oves. His mortal remains were desecrated about four years ago without the robbery being carried out. They are currently in the crypt of the Parish of the Holy Spirit, old Havana. Ω

1 Spanish Professor of Philosophy History, Minister of Education for some years of the Republican government (1931-1939), widower, father of family and atheist, exiled in Buenos Aires experienced in the depths of his soul God’s call to faith. At the age of fifty, he felt another call, that of being a priest. He applied to return to his homeland and enter as another seminarian to study Philosophy and Theology with an internal regime at the seminary in Madrid in the years after the Civil War. Ordained a priest, he passed away at the age of a few.

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