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Cardinal Felix searched for a beatific vision

The first cardinal from the Antilles, Cardinal Kelvin Felix was interred Wednesday, June 19 after a memorial Mass at the Cathedral Chapel in Roseau, Dominica. A week before, a Funeral Mass was held in Castries, St Lucia.

The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, in the heart of the St Lucian capital, was comfortably filled for Cardinal Felix’s funeral. Streets around the cathedral, where he once presided as archbishop for 27 years, were closed off to vehicular traffic.

The front pews were occupied by State and government officials, the diplomatic corps, and heads of various arms of security. They joined family, local, and foreign clergy, religious and laity for the liturgy which began with the Office of the Dead.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop  Santiago De Wit Gúzman and ten bishops from the Antilles Episcopal Conference concelebrated the Mass. Also present in the sanctuary was Cardinal Felix’s immediate successor as Archbishop of Castries, now retired Archbishop Robert Rivas OP.

St Lucia’s Catholic faithful gathered at the minor basilica to bid farewell to Cardinal Felix, whose life was “in search of the beatific vision,” as current Archbishop Gabriel Malzaire stated in his poignant homily. This Funeral Mass, he said, was an opportunity to find “consolation and edification” in the legacy of the deceased prelate.

Cardinal Felix led an extraordinary life of humble service and attained the highest levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, from deacon to priest to archbishop to cardinal. Yet as Archbishop Malzaire shared, “for a man who had achieved the highest level of ecclesiastical recognition…he was the humblest of persons.” His simple tastes were embodied by his eccentric choice of colourful shoes, which betrayed his aversion to “the pomp and splendour of the past.” However, the Cardinal’s humility was paired with a regal dignity befitting his role representing Christ during liturgies, as Archbishop Malzaire explained: “when it came to the liturgy, where he was to function in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), he was truly royal.”

This duality of being a “humble and obedient son” yet simultaneously embracing the grandeur of his priestly vocation defined Cardinal Felix.

Archbishop Malzaire was especially inspired by the Cardinal’s serene acceptance of suffering, which reflected the words of St Paul: “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.”

In his final days, Cardinal Felix’s repeated refrain was “the offering of his suffering for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, for the Church in the Archdiocese and the region.” According to the Archbishop, this demonstrated that the Cardinal understood that the Christian journey is not “a bed of roses” but one that “embraces the cross of Jesus Christ, who is the only saviour of the world.”

In contrast to contemporary purveyors of an “expedient spirituality” devoid of sacrifice, Cardinal Felix modelled an appreciation for “the redemptive value of suffering”.

While not “advocating a morbid disposition towards life,” Archbishop Malzaire urged the faithful to develop “a consciousness of the consequences of a merely expedient spirituality that is devoid of any form of challenge.”

The Cardinal’s life testified to a fervent desire “to improve that which was not completely wholesome in the society” through his commitment to social action, ecumenism, preaching, youth formation, education, and reverent liturgies.

Fittingly, Cardinal Felix passed away on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, reflecting his unparalleled “dedication to, and reverence for, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament” which was the very source of his “life and purpose.”

Archbishop Malzaire summarised, “it is at the Eucharistic table that the Christian learns what love really is…insofar as we are ready to embrace the challenge and the joy that it offers, we are on our way to the eternal bliss, for which our dear cardinal worked long and hard.”

In bidding farewell to his spiritual father, mentor, confessor and friend, Archbishop Malzaire proclaimed: “we are confident that your beloved father, brother, uncle and friend, is resting in God’s peace. And to him, my father, my confessor and my friend I say, so long, until we meet again on the shores of eternity.”

The casket bearing Cardinal Kelvin Edward Felix was taken by police in dress uniform to the hearse, and then through the streets of Castries with sections lined by children from Catholic schools.

— Story and photos by Raymond Syms, Editor