Cardinal Aponte Martínez dies at 89
Gov. Luis Fortuño declared five days of mourning for the highest-ranking leader of the Catholic Church on the island, with U.S. and Puerto Rico flags lowered to half-staff at all government installations.
Aponte Martínez, who was battling various health complications, passed away at Auxilio Mutuo Hospital on the 62nd anniversary of his entering the priesthood. San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves was planning a Mass this morning, and family members are expected to provide details of his burial services.
Aponte Martínez has been the only Puerto Rican until now to attain the title of cardinal, which is the Roman Catholic Church’s highest rank. Born in Lajas in 1922, he was named bishop of Ponce in 1962, before attaining the position of San Juan archbishop in 1964. He was named cardinal in 1973 by Pope Paul VI.
Political and religious leaders, as well as artists and other prominent figures, expressed sorrow at his passing. Singer Olga Tañon called his death a “sorrowful loss,” while U.S. Rep. José Serrano assured that his death was felt in the Puerto Rican community in New York.
“He served his church in an exemplary way and put Puerto Rico on the highest level,” Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said.
Aponte Martínez, archbishop emeritus of San Juan de Puerto Rico,was born August 4, 1922 in Lajas, in the diocese of Ponce (now the diocese of Mayagüez) and he completed his studies at the major seminary of the archdiocese of Boston. In Boston, he was ordained to the priesthood on April 10, 1950. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the United States. He spent the first three years of his priesthood in the curia of Ponce as secretary of same, and for many years as a parish priest in the same diocese where he was very much appreciated and beloved by the Bishop and faithful.
Aponte Martínez was the first cardinal native of Puerto Rico, as well as the first bishop native of the island. He was named titular bishop of Lares in July 1960 and appointed coadjutor possessing the right of succession to the residential See of Ponce. He received episcopal ordination later that year and became bishop of Ponce in 1963.
In November 1964, he was promoted to archbishop of San Juan, succeeding Archbishop James P. Davis, who was transferred to Santa Fe. Aponte Martínez was the 57th pastor of the 450-year old archdiocese with over a million Catholics.
He was also president of the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference. As bishop he carried out on an intensive pastoral activity in all areas of the archdiocese and the island, and has often spoken out strongly on all the most urgent social problems, giving their varied religious and moral ramifications. In particular, he spoke out against government programs for birth control and sterilization on the island.
He was named archbishop emeritus of San Juan in March 1999.
Aponte Martínez was proclaimed cardinal by Paul VI in the consistory of March 5, 1973, of the Title of Santa Maria della Provvidenza a Monte Verde (St. Mary of Providence in Monte Verde).