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An Interview with Don Jesús Rodriguez Roldán

by Carmen Julia Rodriguez, Profiles in Catholicism

Don Jesus Rodríguez Roldán, born January 31, 1931, is a Puerto Rican professional from Caguas, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico In the thirties, the Rodríguez Roldán Family lived in Morena, located north of the Federal Reserve Forest and the Cerro La Santa, an undeveloped rural area. With no roads or community services, schools and churches too far away from home that could only be reached navigating treacherous routes through rivers and streams. For these reasons, Doña Atanasia Roldán de Rodríguez, his mother, had the vision to move the family  in 1940 to the city, Caguas, in search of better educational opportunity. It is there where a young Don Jesús meets his future wife, Esperanza Torres Torres from Yabucoa.  At the moment, Don Jesús – in addition to be the father of 5, the grandfather of 8, and the great grandfather of 5 – is the Eucharist Minister responsible for bringing the communion to the infirm and the elderly in his parish.

Carmen Julia Rodriguez Torres  and Don Jesús Rodriguez Roldan at St Theresa  of Jesus Catholic School School in Aurora, Il

Carmen Julia: Don Jesús, thank you for granting Profiles in Catholicism this interview. We must inform our readers before going any further that I am one of the 5 who call you Papi Chu.

Don Jesús: Certainly, Carmen Julia is my firstborn, August 14, 1954, and the first one of the Rodríguez Torres Family to benefit from the vision of my mother completing undergraduate studies (BA in Humanities) at the University of Puerto Rico in 1977 and graduate studies at Aurora University (MA in Education) in 2015.

Carmen Julia: Many were the parishes that influence your spiritual development. Could you please share with us the names and the dates when you were an active member?

Don Jesús: I was baptized, confirmed and received my first communion - fully aware that God is in Heaven, on Earth, and everywhere – in Morena, Caguas. I am the fruit of the evangelical mission of Elenita de Jesús, La Santa del Pueblo; the Cerro La Santa honors her name. From 1940 to 1958, I was an active member of the Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in Savarona, Caguas served by the Redemptorist Fathers and Nuns. There I was an altar aide for 5 years; I participated in the Sunday Mass and the devotion to our Lady of Perpetual Succor with exposition of the Sacred Sacrament every Wednesday. I participated also in many activities of evangelization and rosaries through the streets of Savarona. From 1963 to the present, I have been an active member of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Guaynabo. A productive and cherished participation as a Knight of Columbus, Cursillista, Community Service Liaison, and Eucharist Minister.

Carmen Julia: Many of our readers probably are not aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. You were a young man when the Island becomes a Commonwealth. Could you share with us your reflection of that moment in the history of Puerto Rico?

Don Jesús: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (“Estado Libre Asociado”) is an association between partners_ who share authority and responsibilities in the pursuit of the common good (“Commonwealth”). Like any association, it seeks to address common needs through agreements that produce a contract. In our association with the United States, we share currency, defense and citizenship with the promise of autonomous government for the Island. The agreements negotiated by both parties are enabled by their Constitutions and based on the commitment to refrain from taking unilateral decisions.

After the negotiations ended and the Puerto Rican Constitution was ratified,Rico) the United States of America sent a representative to the United Nations with this message: 

Puerto Rico can be taken out of the Decolonization Committee because Puerto Rico has an autonomous government

The government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is elected through general suffrage at the Island without interference from the US federal government. Puerto Rico also has contributive autonomy: the American citizens residents of the Island do not pay federal taxes (unless they generate income subject to federal tax) and do not vote in the federal elections in the United States. The Puerto Ricans who live in the United States do pay federal taxes and vote in the elections of the state where they reside. This social contract was carried out faithfully by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. But the US Congress – especially in recent years -  have violated that contract by taking unilateral decisions that affect the wellbeing of the Puerto Rican People. Since we share currency, Puerto Rico was under the provisions of federal law regulating bankruptcy both for individuals and corporations, but now due to an unilateral decision of the US Congress  the rules were changed without consulting the People of Puerto Rico. If one of the parties in the association breaks the agreements and the other party does not complain, both are responsible for the consequences.

Carmen Julia: Rafael Cordero a Puerto Rican from the XVIII century was gazing upon a painting of Saint Anthony of Padua when he receives the inspiration that would guide his life mission: to educate children without expecting any reward. Was there a similar moment in your live?

Don Jesús: Yes, because in the vision of my mother, I was both beneficiary and collaborator, as I was both  fruit and participant of La Santa’s mission of evangelization. When my elder sister and I completed high school, we could not continue postsecondary studies. Following on the footsteps of Maestro Cordero, I helped my family and neighbors with what little I had. After I found a good job in the city, I began helping my brothers and sisters to complete their postsecondary studies. Yet I never stopped dreaming that one day my Heavenly Father would grant me the opportunity to continue my education at the university.

Carmen Julia: How did you proceed to accomplish your aspirations? Which were the obstacles most difficult to  overcome?

Don Jesús: I helped first my brothers and sisters with money and transportation after buying a car when I was working in Santurce (San Juan metropolitan area). One brother went to Mayagüez at the other side of the Island  and I helped him every week. It was a hard labor but it was a labor from the heart. God did answer my prayers because in 1962, I began undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico and completed my BA degree in 1972, the year my firstborn began to study there.

Carmen Julia: If you could share an advice with our readers, what would you say?

Don Jesús: Never give in; never give up! That was my mother’s way.  We were 13 siblings, 9 survived to become good citizens and, for the most part, professionals. It was an uphill struggle in a time of scarce opportunity, but with determination and a lot of effort – and the help of our Heavenly Father – we accomplished most of our academic and professional goals.

Carmen Julia: Carlos Manuel (Charlie) Rodríguez, also from Caguas, is a blessed one on his way to become the first Puerto Rican saint of the Catholic Church. Do you find similarities between your life and Charlie’s life?

Don Jesús We share a similar life journey and the commitment to Jesus Christ, our Lord. His journey has been a constant source of inspiration and guidance. Both sought to do right with scarce resources but a lot of faith. Both based our religious faith in the Resurrected Christ, the living Christ in the Eucharist and at the Altar. Both strove to make this earth a better place for our community.

Carmen Julia: These are difficult times for the Island due to the Great Economic Depression of Puerto Rico, the Zika Virus, drug addiction. What can the parishes do to help the community cope with these challenges?

Don Jesús: In all these problems and in any enterprise on this earth, we must find our pastoral and community mission as well as our commitment to make Christ present through our action, to communicate His “Good News”  in every temporal circumstance we share with others. We must promote and practice prevention – better to foresee than to remedy. We should never marginalize any person in our community, instead we should always seek the way to help and uplift the downtrodden. We should guide our neighbors and take the power of faith and prayer to their lives.

Carmen Julia: If as the poet once said, our life is only “smoke fading into the sky…”Why then should we strive to live it well?

Don Jesús We should be living flame… because our lives are not smoke fading into the sky if we live them well and do right. Seek meaning by doing meaningful things that will help you to develop your being, your soul, your spirit. In this way, when our time is up, our material body will return to the matter from where it came, but our soul, our spirit will fly to the Divine Dimension of Eternal Life with our Heavenly Father.

Carmen Jesús Don Jesús, once again, thank you for the interview, and – with the permission of our readers -  your blessing, Papi Chu.

Don Jesus: May God bless you today, tomorrow and always. Thank you for in this way you contribute to the mission of the church: to evangelize human beings so they can repent, believe in the Word of God, and be saved. In this way we proclaim the “Good News” certain that Jesus Christ is indeed ”the Way, the Truth, the Life” and His Resurrection, our destiny.

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