Friday, May 30, 2008

Thousands attend mass to remember Fr. Virgil


Thousands of Santa Barbarans gathered at the foot of Old Mission, Santa Barbara yesterday to celebrate the life of the late Fr. Virgil Cordano, O.F.M., a man who cast a dazzling spell of love and laughter over this city for more than seven decades.
Cordano’s Franciscan colleagues recognized their friend as a man who welcomed people of all faiths, and whose primary way of experiencing life was through love.

“Father Virgil was a passionate man and therefore a tremendous lover,” said the Very Rev. Melvin Jurisich, O.F.M. “This love was the basis for all he did, all he wrote and all he spoke. And it was this love that drove him to be with you and among you.”
Jurisich described Cordano’s life with the community as one not restricted to the walls of the church, but as one that spilled out into the streets, dinner tables and fiestas — the roots of Santa Barbara.
Cordano, 89, was a staple at Old Spanish Days, Fiesta celebrations, where even after falling ill last year, he performed a short dance on stage at the Fiesta Pequena celebration with his cane.
While it’s undeniable that Cordano enjoyed a good party, the reasons for his involvement in such occasions wasn’t simply for a free meal, as Jurisich said, but was the bedrock of how the beloved preacher believed love could blossom.
Jurisich read the following passage written by Cordano: “Social life, plays, dinner, entertainment, the theater, music, dance extends brotherhood and sisterhood, beyond the limiting unity of prayer and work. To break bread together, to drink together, to join in dance and music may ease tensions in the public arena and the world of business. In home, and yes, even in places of worship, there is a great need for the grateful celebration of the gift of life, its beauty and its hope.”
Jurisich said this is why Cordano was found all over town, all of the time.
But behind Cordano’s social presence was a man who the Rev. Joseph Chinnici, O.F.M. said was deeply complex. He called Cordano a, “Rare gift from an ever-present god.”
Chinnici said Cordano based his life on a theory he dubbed, “prepositional living.”
“You die to yourself and you live, not as a noun, a person of distinction, a man of importance, even a priest, but you live among, with and for others,” Chinnici said. “Among, with and for. This is prepositional living.”
Chinnici said Cordano disliked easily definable squares and circles and preferred instead, “Intellectual houses with many sides and multiple entrances, balancing opposites and establishing equilibrium.”
When a complex issue came to the table, Chinnici said Cordano could often be heard, “Uttering in that gravely sonorous voice, ‘well, it’s a complicated issue.’”
But the complexity and openness of Cordano, Chinnici said, was open to people of all faiths and no faith.
“The house of his many-sided mind made room for everyone,” he said.
Chinnici said the myriad stories that thousands have of Santa Barbara’s beloved priest can be summed up with the quick wit and play on words he exhibited in 1989 while blessing the Rancho Vistadores in front of the Mission Santa Ines.
Just as Cordano raised his arms to begin the blessing, Chinnici said two male streakers ran in front of the podium and the crowd erupted in laughter.
“Taking it all in, Virgil remarked, ‘I have a word from the lord: repent for your end is in sight,’” Chinnici said.
Cordano arrived in Santa Barbara in 1934 as a 16-year-old boy. Chinnici said he was hounded by homesickness in those early years, and was later troubled by other aspects of the church.
He said it was Cordano’s ability to accept God’s presence in every moment that helped him be a rock for other clergymen during times of controversy.
“When the friars too encountered crime and sin in their midst, this plumbline of Virgil’s faith filled life [and] measured upright and strengthened us all,” he said.
Jurisich too said Cordano was troubled by some of the church’s problems, but he didn’t break from the fold and remained inside, where he could best effect change.
“He never walked away. He never stood on the outside to throw rocks at it. He stayed inside to try and reform and change and reconcile and he was able to do this because of his own deep relationship with God,” Jurisich said.
After being diagnosed with esophageal cancer three weeks ago, Chinnici said Cordano opted to not receive treatment, and instead insisted on meeting with each of his nephews, nieces and other family members.
One week before he passed, Chinnici said the friar’s held a 24-hour prayer vigil by his bed, but Cordano woke the next morning, and true to form, ate breakfast and, “Insisted that he had some bacon.”
Later that night, Chinnici said he listened to a Dodgers game while simultaneously watching the Lakers.
In Cordano’s final days, Chinnici said he held tight to the credo that he followed throughout life, which is: “Nothing human should be foreign to me because all of creation is not foreign to God.”
Alice MacDonald, a close friend of Cordano's, read the father’s final words with Fr. Richard McManus, O.F.M.
MacDonald said Cordano asked her to read thank you 20 times to the crowd at the funeral mass.
So yesterday, toward the end of the two-hour service, 20 ‘thank yous’ chirped over the loud speaker.
Jurisich urged those gathered at the service to not forget Cordano’s powerful love for the city and its people.
“Father Virgil’s great smile and his hearty laugh were an invitation to party,” he said. “And he believed that in partying we may actually and really fall in love with one another. Now you understand why he loved this city and its people so much. You let him sit at the table with you, listen to music with you and yes dance with you. He loved you dearly and you loved him.
“And I say to you, viva la Fiesta. Viva la Father Virgil.”

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