The only cardinal that the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico has ever known, Luis Aponte Martínez, passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

Born in a large family in 1922 in the town of Lajas, Luis Aponte Martínez showed a deep religious devotion from an early age. This no doubt contributed to his vocation to the priesthood. He studied at Puerto Rico’s San Juan seminary and at the Seminary of Saint John in Boston. In 1950, he was ordained to the priesthood.

Father Aponte Martínez served as secretary to the curia of the Diocese of Ponce and as parish priest in that same diocese. In 1960, he became the first native Puerto Rican bishop, as he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Ponce and titular bishop of Lares. Three years later, Bishop Aponte Martínez became coadjutor bishop of Ponce, and succeeded Bishop James McManus in November of 1963.

Bishop Aponte Martínez would not stay in Ponce for very long. Less than a year later he was appointed as Archbishop of San Juan, a position he would hold for no less than 35 years, retiring in 1999.

Archbishop Aponte Martínez was created a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1973 with the tile of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza a Monte Verde. He was one of the longest-surviving cardinals created by Paul VI and participating in both conclaves of 1978. The only others who can claim the same are Cardinals Paolo Arns, William Baum, Eugênio Sales and Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Aponte Martínez played an important pastoral role on the entire island of Puerto Rico, often speaking out strongly on all sorts of moral issues, and criticising government programs of birth control and sterilisation. One of his most notable denouncements was that of the homosexual lifestyle of pop singer Ricky Martin.

The body of the cardinal is taken to the various churches that played an important part in his life, before his burial at the cathedral in San Juan on Monday.

The College of Cardinals in now 210 strong.

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