[Diocese of Southeast Florida] A faithful servant and devoted bishop has passed from us. Bishop Emilio Hernández of Cuba died on April 19. He served the church bravely and sacrificially during a turbulent and costly era of his country’s history. His commitment to the Gospel was indeed unwavering.
We are pleased to offer this tribute, which includes a brief biography written by the Rev. Alejandro Hernández, one of Bishop Emilio’s children and rector of Todos Los Santos, Miami.
May Bishop Emilio rest in peace and rise in glory.
Bishop Emilio Joaquín Hernández Albalate was born in the city of Morón, province of Camagüey Cuba, on Dec. 7, 1925. He was a restless lover of justice from a very young age. His mother shared that she once discovered a steak hidden in his pocket. He had planned to offer it to his Afro-Cuban friend Chorizo, who was poor.
As a teenager, he was once walking with a friend when they met a beggar on the road. His friend began to push and mock the beggar. Emilio struck his friend to stop him. When his friend asked why he had hit him, he replied, “do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.”
All that said, Bishop Emilio was not perfect, just as no one is. He never believed himself to be perfect because he knew that he would be deceiving himself and not living in the truth.
Thanks to his mentor, teacher, and pastor, the Rev. Moreno, he discovered very early in life that he was radically loved by God. Convinced of God’s unconditional love for humanity and the need to proclaim this good news, young Emilio began to feel God’s call to ordained ministry. At the time however, his parents wanted him to become a physician. Desiring to please his parents, he entered the University of Havana to study medicine. The call continued tugging at his heart until, in his third year of medical school, he left and was soon admitted to the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas.
At the time he left medical school, he was already dating Edivia Hilaria Mesa Miranda. She was a beautiful young woman. He met her at Trinity Church in Morón. Edivia had captivated him not only by her beauty, but for her fighting spirit. The couple got married, and Edivia left everything to follow her husband to the seminary and to begin a new life in the service of God.
Emilio and his wife had three children, Mayra Sara, Leonel Emilio and Alejandro Félix Hernández. After finishing his theological studies, Emilio was sent by Bishop Alexander Hugo Blankingship to pastor a small church in Florencia, Camagüey. He would travel through the fields on horseback to visit the farmers. He baptized hundreds in that community alone.
In Florencia, the Rev. Emilio, strengthened his connection with the July 26 Movement, which he had joined while in seminary with the ideal of ending the prevailing government corruption and restoring constitutionality to the nation of Cuba.
With the triumph of the rebels, the Rev. Emilio would begin a new phase of his life. After rejecting an offer by the mayor of the city of Morón, in order to continue proclaiming the Gospel, he was sent, by Bishop José Agustín González, to the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palma Soriano to pastor the churches and colleges of both cities.
Shortly after the family had settled in the city of Santiago de Cuba, the Rev. Emilio, outraged by the Castro brothers’ betrayal of the principles of the July 26 Movement and the surrender of the country to international communism, joined the Revolutionary Movement of the People. He was betrayed by one of the members of his group and was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He might have been pardoned if he had just excepted the rehabilitation plan that required him to renounce his principles, but Rev. Emilio served the entire sentence as a form of protest.
While in prison the Rev. Emilio continued to preach the Gospel. There he gathered an ecumenical fellowship that included Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other Christians. His wife carefully passed him a Book of Common Prayer by using the BCP’s pages to wrap the food that she would deliver to him in prison on her visits.
After serving his sentence, although he would have been allowed to leave the country for the United States, he preferred to remain in Cuba and continue his pastoral ministry in the Episcopal Church.
He was soon sent to the city of Cárdenas to tend to the parishes in that city and the cities of Coliseo, Limonar and Itabo. He was later appointed by Bishop José Agustín González as archdeacon of the province of Matanzas and professor of the Evangelical Seminary of Theology.
With the announcement of the retirement of the Diocesan Bishop, the Venerable Emilio, along with the Venerable Juan Ramón de Paz and Prospero Mesa, became nominees at the synod that would elect the new bishop of the Diocese of Cuba. Venerable Emilio was elected bishop coadjutor of Cuba in 1980 and was consecrated as diocesan bishop in 1982.
The bishopric of the illustrious Emilio, which lasted a little more than a decade, was characterized by its simplicity and solidarity, and by its sensitivity to the problems and anxieties of clergy and lay people alike. His legacy also included the fruit of his substantial ecclesial work in the total renewal of the life of the Diocese.
Among his achievements:
- The Cuban Mass sung poetically and with deeply native criolla tonalities.
- The ordination of the first women to the diaconate and presbyterate in 1986.
- The creation of a solid relationship named Fellowship in Mission with the Diocese of Jacksonville, Florida, which ended the isolation of the Cuban Episcopal Church.
- The creation of the New Ministries movement and the ordination of worker-ministers who would no longer be obligated give up their secular work, in order to train as clergy for the church.
- The revitalization of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas and the long-needed commitment to supplying new professors and students.
After his retirement, Bishop Emilio and his wife resided in Havana for a time. They would later move to the United States to be with their children, who resided in Miami, Dade County and Broward County. Bishop Emilio had been widowed a few years at the time of his death. He lived with his daughter Mayra in Coral Springs.
The Acts of the Apostles, referring to King David, says: “dFor David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died.” To paraphrase this quote, we could say: “Bishop Emilio, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died.”
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.