Catholic priest still celebrates Mass on 100th birthday

Significant life: Rev. Serafín Rodal Fandiño

Ask any dedicated Catholic priest how he would prefer to die, invariably the answer is “At the altar.” And in Spain, once a bastion of the Catholic faith, there is at least one priest that who is well on his way to fulfilling that wish.

Rev. Serafín Rodal Fandiño celebrated his 100th birthday on January 10 by celebrating Mass in Teis, a locale near Vigo in northern Spain. Don Serafín has served in the priesthood for 75 years and despite his age is able to read the Gospel at Mass without the aid of eyeglasses while he sits beside the altar in his wheelchair.  He still celebrates Mass every day despite his age and infirmity.

Joined by his many friends, neighbors, and relatives, the centenarian wept in appreciation of the their good wishes as they sang Happy Birthday. A living testimony to faith, a fellow cleric, Brother Antonio Donaire, said of Don Serafín, as he is known, “He helped to get jobs for a lot of people in the Ascón shipyards; he has done a great deal of good.” Don Serafín has lived a facility operated by the Spanish Missionaries to Poor and Infirm for the last decade in the working class neighborhood.

Serafín Rodal Fandiño was born in Cangas, Galicia, on 10 January 1912, and still exhibits a quick mind and an active memory.  He recalls that during Spain’s fratricidal Civil War 1936-1939, he got into a few scrapes. “I got into a fight with an army corporal and I beat him. Everybody told me that I looked like a boxer, rather than a priest,” he said smilingly for the cameras. In 1934, he served as a soldier in the Spanish army in the Revolution of Asturias, and then as a chaplain during the Civil War. Many priests, nuns and other religious like himself were martyred during the Civil War, which pitted Spain's Republican government and leftists supported by the Soviet Union on one side, against dissident Army officers and troops led by Gen. Francisco Franco and supported by National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy.

Don Serafín grew up on the other side of inlet or ria from Vigo. His father was a sailor and his mother an artisan and homemaker. His older brother also became a priest, serving in the Santa María de Oria parish where Don Serafín would also serve. Don Serafín has served as chaplain at the San José de la Guía College and cemetery, always in the area of Teis. The local council in Teis has named a street in Don Serafín’s honor, which crosses through Vigo to the parish church where he celebrates the Mass every day.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1935 and celebrated his first Mass on 21 December of that year as chaplain of the Bishop of Tui. Last year, Don Serafin recalled that his father was near death at the time in Cangas. The young priest hastened to go to him with the Eucharist and holy oils to prepare his father for death. "But I wasn't able to stay until he died," said Don Serafin as his eyes moistened while praying a Rosary, "because I had to return to Tui to celebrate Mass; transport in those days was so bad." 

The centenarian priest is well loved by his congregation, who turned out to celebrate his birthday. One woman, in her 70s, recalled that Don Serafín officiated both her baptism and marriage. Other recall that he was known as a sportsman, and a man who liked an occasional drink or a shot of cognac in his morning coffee.  One neighbor attested to the priest’s penchant for drinking coffee liqueur.  Brother Antonio Donaire said “I told him that he was forbidden to die before reaching his 100th birthday; don’t fail me!"

Don Serafin reflected that he is now losing his teeth, his eyesight and memory are fading. But his faith remains the same. As a priest, Don Serafin believes that the Catholic Church remains the same. "Despite the events, calumnies and persecutions, it is immortal; look, it has been persecuted since the beginning." As to why the Church has been persecuted, Don Serafin answered "Pain." He added, "Preaching morality and living it has a cost, it hurts. It pains a father to correct his children, but it is his duty."  

Galicia forms the northwest corner of Spain, which is known for its maritime industry as well as its poverty and green landscape. At one time, so many Galicians emigrated from the area that in some areas of Latin America Spaniards are known generally as ‘gallegos’Galicians. The region is also known for the Shrine of St James at Compostela, the destination of centuries of pilgrims who walk the route that has become known as el Camino de Santiago – the Road or way of St James the Apostle. A movie starring Martin Sheen and son Emilio Estevez, The Way, was filmed in the area.
 



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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