Missionary Sending

American Eucharistic Witnesses: Carlos Manuel Cecilio—A Eucharistic Life

To help pave the way to the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21, 2024, we are thrilled to present the American Eucharistic Witnesses. These are holy men and women who lived, loved, and served on the very soil upon which we now stand. They all testify—in unique and powerful ways—to what it means to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and go on mission with him for the life of the world. Each month from now through July 2024, we will feature a new witness. Old and young, men and women, representing different cultural families and vocations, these men and women show us—in living color—what holiness looks like. We are also thrilled to partner with American artist Connor Miller, who is creating an original woodcut print of each witness to help us visually engage with this creative new series.

Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago Woodcut Print by Connor Miller

Bl. Charlie’s Early Years

Carlos Manuel Cecilio Rodríguez Santiago (also known as “Blessed Charlie”) was born on November 22, 1918, in Caguas, Puerto Rico. He was the second of five children born to Manuel Baudilio Rodríguez and Hermina Santiago Esterás. In Puerto Rico, the beginning of the 20th century was marked by significant changes at the civil, political, and ecclesiastical levels.

A few months after the birth of the couple’s youngest daughter, the house and business of Charlie’s father caught fire. As a result of this incident, the family moved in with Charlie’s maternal grandparents. His grandmother, Alejandrina, would significantly influence the family, especially Charlie. We could say that his devotion to daily Mass and receiving the Eucharist were born from the example set forth by his grandmother. The whole family was nourished by her example in attending the daily celebration of Mass before going to school or work. While at school, he began serving as an altar boy and encountered anew the liturgy with which he began to fall in love. His siblings stated that the day of his First Communion greatly impacted Charlie, to the point that he even remembered insignificant details.

At an early age, Bl. Charlie’s health was affected due to what people called the “dog incident.” When he was young, Charlie fended off a rabid dog who was attacking his young cousin. While he saved his cousin, Charlie’s health was eventually affected. He began to suffer from chronic intestinal disorders, pains, and humiliating situations. However, this did not prevent him from living an intense apostolic life. Charlie’s daily life was centered on the Eucharist. The centrality of the Eucharist in his life made it possible for him to live dedicated to his apostolate through his work, his letters, catechesis, various parish ministries, and the study and promotion of the liturgy.

First communicants kneeling in prayer

A Life Centered on the Eucharist

To understand the importance of the Eucharist in the life of Bl. Charlie, it is essential to understand his concept of Christian life. He states in his writing Faith and Life: Liturgy, the Basis of Catholic Life:

Catholic life is unique; it is a tremendous living participation in the new order inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Christ; it is a LIFE in the deepest, most authentic, and fullest sense of the word. This Catholic life does not consist of merely external and laborious imitation of Christ’s examples or a series of unconnected religious practices. Christianity, says Fulton Sheen, is a spiritual biology. It is the insertion in us of the LIFE of God.1

The Christian life is our insertion into God’s life, or it can be seen as a unique union of our life in God. The question arises: how can this happen in my life? Bl. Charlie, in this same letter, provides the answer. It is the sacred liturgy that offers us the means of effectively realizing this unique and marvelous union in us.2 From this, we can understand the importance of the Eucharistic liturgy in Charlie’s life, always seen as participation in the Paschal Mystery.

Patient Endurance in Physical Suffering

The centrality of his Eucharistic and Paschal life was reflected in how he endured his illness. He took the setbacks of the day with joy and even accepted, with good humor, the humiliating situations he went through because of his condition. Above all, we can discover this experience in his “dark night of the soul.” Whenever a moment passed in which he felt abandoned by God, he would continue to walk in the darkness, aided by his faith in the Risen One. Within those moments, he sought, with all his longing, the living God he had received so many times in the Eucharist.

He found consolation in saying the word “God,” the word with the greatest meaning for him. During his struggle with the “dark night of the soul,” he constantly asked his brother: “What is the word that has a special meaning for me? [...] and when he said ‘God,’ he breathed and was quiet.”3

Young man kneeling before a crucifix and a tabernacle in a Catholic Church

The Centrality of the Liturgical Mysteries

Carlos Manuel’s experience of Easter and the certainty of what he experienced in the Eucharist made him give himself to his ministry. He did his best to educate his friends and everyone around him. Through the celebration of the liturgical mysteries, the life of God is made more present in us. He felt the need to “wrest the prey from Satan” and to do everything possible so that Jesus Christ could celebrate the Paschal Mystery with and in everyone.4

His life was dedicated to helping others discover or rediscover what is essential for Christians: experiencing the liturgy so that it could be fully understood, practiced, and lived in a transformative way.5 Because of this, Charlie developed his ministry in the Catholic University Center of the University of Puerto Rico. He also started an initiative called “Days of Christian life,” where participants shared their experience of faith and time was dedicated to formation. He did apostolic work in parishes and shared his passion for the liturgy through letters and in many other ways.

Carlos Manuel discovered for himself the great mystery of the Resurrection and how Easter made Christ live in him. This remarkable discovery made the liturgy, especially the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the center of his life. He understood that the ordinary means by which God communicates his life and grace is found in celebrating the sacred mysteries that have given us the fullness of life. If we want to rediscover the importance of the Eucharist in our lives, let us begin by rediscovering the Paschal Mystery. In every Eucharist, the mystery that has given us new life and has made us children of God and sharers in his divine condition continues to be made present. Carlos Manuel stated: “We live for that night,” referring to the Easter Vigil. We can say, “We live for the Eucharist,” because in it, the glorious Paschal Mystery, through which Christ offers us a share in his divine life, is made present again for us.

Shrine to Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Shrine to Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Help the children and youth in your life grow closer to Jesus in the Eucharist through the witness of Bl. Charlie today! Download Katie Bogner’s children’s activities—perfect for home, classroom, and parish settings!

1. C.M.C. Rodríguez Santiago, «Fe y vida: La liturgia base de la vida católica»

2. Cf. C.M.C. Rodríguez Santiago, «Fe y vida: Laliturgia base de la vida católica»

3. CONGREGATIO DE CAUSIS SANCTUORUM, Summarium Cannonizationis Servi Dei Caroli Emmanuelis Rodríguez, 26–27

4. C.M.C. RODRÍGUEZ SANTIAGO, «Carta a Rafael Ángel»

5. C.M.C. RODRÍGUEZ SANTIAGO, «No echemos a perder la Vigilia Pascual»