SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Pope Francis has approved the heroic virtue of Servant of God Rafael Cordero Molina, a layman from Puerto Rico who dedicated his life to fighting racism and educating black children.
If canonized, Molina would be the second black layman from the American continent to be made a saint, following St. Martin de Porres.
Molina, whose beatification cause is now moving forward, devoted more than 58 years of his life to teaching. He founded a school to educate children in the principles of the Christian faith and morality.
Born on Oct. 24, 1790, Molina was educated by his parents, as black individuals at the time did not have the right to education, and his family could not afford to send him to a school.
In 1810, as an adult, he opened his own school and gave free classes to black children who were unable to pay for a teacher. Eventually, even white families began sending their children to study under him. Some of his students would become leaders of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico.
Molina died on July 5, 1868. A few months before his death, he called on the state to complete the education of his last students.
Abbot Oscar Rivera, who is the postulator of Molina's cause for canonization, told CNA that the cause was opened in Puerto Rico in March 2002.
He said there were some difficulties at first, “because it was believed that Molina was not known for his holiness, but he was.”
In addition, some claimed that “he was more a national hero than a religious person, as the liberal movement portrayed him as a bulwark of the liberal movement and had hidden his religious dimension as a practicing Catholic and catechist,” the abbot explained.
However, in 2009, a Vatican commission confirmed Molina's reputation of holiness; and in 2012, it recognized his heroic virtue. Pope Francis approved recognition of his heroic virtue on Dec. 9.
Abbot Rivera said the announcement of the Pope’s approval is “very significant, as our country is immersed in a crisis, and it is encouraging to know that a man discriminated against because of his race and his poverty stood out because of his unmeasured commitment to others and his service of love through education.”
In a very racist society, the children educated by Molina “began to dream of a different society,” he explained. “They would later become the national heroes who would teach the people that discrimination against blacks was unjust.”
Moline was also “renowned as a good teacher and father,” Abbot Rivera said, adding that “he was very good with kids.”
“He was a humble man who had the chance to have wealth and honors and yet devoted himself in body and soul to the children, his treasure and his love.”