Auxiliary Bishops of Havana (v part)

By Msgr. Antonio Rodríguez (Father Tony)

Msgr. Salvador Emilio Riverón Cortina (1948-2004)

I have been blessed by God to have met many good and excellent people. Within this great legion I include Msgr. Salvador Riverón. Our mutual knowledge went through several stages. First, we were adversaries; then we accept ourselves naturally, effortlessly; later, we were friends. And we ended up like good friends. That’s how I perceived it.

Simple man, unpretentious of power or honor; loyal, faithful and sincere — if you will, very sincere. He adored the truth in every aspect of life. He was always willing to defend her, even if it cost her vital positions. Smart, but those who don’t show it. Catholic of those who no longer abound. Assiduous confession and spiritual director. Charitable in a discreet way with the poor. He was able to perform very well in the second places that always belonged to him in life. The first time I was rector, he was my vice-chancellor. That’s where we became good friends.

Monseñor Salvador Riveron Cortina
Monseñor Salvador Riveron Cortina

Several bishops have come to us from the legendary Camaguea: Cardinal Arteaga, the servant of God Msgr. Eduardo Boza Masvidal, Msgr. Francisco Oves and the current Archbishop, Archbishop Juan García. Also from that region came to Havana Msgr. Salvador. He was born in the city of Camagueyana on July 7, 1948 and was baptized in the parish of Our Lady of Charity of this same city. Until the age of four he lived in Esmeralda, where his father had a law firm. The family later moved to the people of Florida and developed their lives there. Pre-university teaching was in the evening hours at the Campesina Workers’ School in the city of Camaguey, and by day he was an assistant at his father’s law firm in Florida. At the end of the pre-university he enrolled in Biology at the University of Havana, it was the course 1969-1970. Within a few months, the family moved to the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón in the Cuban capital. There lived his mother, the catonose and housewife, and his father, free thinker.

A maternal uncle was Father Joseph Cortina, who had a late vocation to the priesthood. He was a student of the seminary El Buen Pastor by the then Diocese of Camaguey and in the late 1950s was ordained a priest and parish priest of a small town in the province of Agramontine, where he was surprised by the expulsion of priests in September 1961 and was forced to leave Cuba on the ship Covadonga along with other clerics. He then went to work in the Dominican Republic and died in a car accident in the late 1960s.

I mean under an anecdote I heard almost forty years ago from Msgr. Adolfo Rodriguez when I was bishop of Camaguey. I’ve counted it more than once in homilies. It’s completely uplifting. It turns out that Bishop Adolphus was warned of Father Cortina’s death. He had to tell his mother. The bishop didn’t know how to do it. His physical appearance betrayed some serious fact when he came to see Father Cortina’s mother. She was washing, and as she used to at the time, she sang the following Catholic song, very common in those years: “To serve the Lord with joy, to give her joy…” When the old lady saw the bishop, she understood the gravity of the matter, and so she said, “As I see you, I know you’re not coming to tell me any good news, my son died?” The bishop only had to answer in the affirmative. The mother continued: “For something since I awoke, I was singing joyfully to the Lord. with joy.” For me it has a name: authentic Christian faith in the present and in the afterlife. The Catholicism of Msgr. Salvador came to him in maternal genes.

In 1974, the young Salvador graduated with a Bachelor of Biology, in the specialty of superior animals, and worked as such at the National Center for Biological Research until in 1978 he entered the seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio and was ordained a priest on March 3, 1982 by the newly appointed Archbishop, Archbishop Jaime Ortega Alamino. He was soon assigned the parish of Santa María del Rosario with its three subsidiary churches. In 1984 he was appointed vice-rector of the Habanero seminary, then rector Father José Félix Pérez Riera. At the same time he was appointed parish priest of the Sanctuary of the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Havana. From that moment on, he was a professor of the subject of Metaphysics at the seminary.

Here I do an act to talk about his philosophical thought: he was a neotomist imparted by land. Many times, when he was heard, he gave the impression that along with the ten commandments of God’s law the thesis of twenty-four tomists had come down from Mount Sinai. He explained them to his students one by one, with passion, eloquence, and vehemence. On one occasion, Salesian Father Bruno Roccaro told me, “It’s okay for a university, but not for a seminary.” His Catholic thought was classical, true to doctrinal and moral truths. It vibrated with the theological and philosophical thought of St. John Paul II. He was the Cuban Ratzinger.

In November 1995, the cardinal appointed him Episcopal Vicar of Cerro-Vedado and Centro Habana and rector of the Priestly House. Although he always remained a teacher of the seminary, at that time he ceased to be vice-chancellor. I lost an effective help that I felt like a void.

After St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998, several comments circulated on possible candidates for the auxiliary bishop of Havana. On April 24, 1999, the Pope appointed Father Salvador Riverón as the new auxiliary bishop of Cardinal Jaime Ortega. I am convinced that it was the best option and help the Archbishop needed for those moments of pastoral overflow, typical of those years. He was an effective collaborator of the Cardinal and the Bishop with which the Haban priests could speak of you in order to present their pastoral and priestly problems.

A sudden and deadly illness, the discomfort of which he had been feeling and suffering in silence for several months, caused his death. As a result of an intestinal tumor, he died in the early hours of Sunday, February 22, 2004. There was a divine light in that death. The Catholic calendar marked the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Thus God told us that the life of Msgr. Salvador was faithful to the Church and to the teachings of the Pope.

His mortal remains are found in the crypt of the parish of the Holy Spirit in Havana along with those of other bishops, since a few years ago he attempted a possible desecration in the pantheon of the cemetery of Columbus where his transfer to the present place was determined.

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