Caro Rodríguez, José María
CARO RODRÍGUEZ, JOSÉ MARÍA
Cardinal, archbishop of Santiago de Chile, supporter of social reform and social action; b. San Antonio de Petrel, Province of Colchagua, 1866; d. Santiago, 1958. Born of poor but cultured parents, Caro Rodríguez was educated at home and in public school. At 15 he entered the seminary of Santiago in the St. Peter Damian section for poor students. He was sent to Rome to study theology, and he received the doctorate and was ordained in 1890. There he contracted tuberculosis, from which he suffered throughout his life. From 1891 to 1911 he was professor of grammar, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, and dogmatic theology at the seminary of Santiago. He was appointed apostolic vicar of Tarapacá in 1911 and titular bishop of Milas the next year.
Iquique, the city where the bishop resided, had an antireligious atmosphere, and he was attacked in the press and from the lecture platform. To teach and defend the faith, he published a weekly news sheet, La Luz, which was distributed free of charge. To counteract the general atmosphere, he sponsored a series of public ceremonies: a celebration in honor of Constantine's Edict of Toleration, a Palm Sunday procession (during the course of which 300 men attacked the faithful, who defended themselves with blessed palms), and a Corpus Christi procession (for which he placed on trucks the altars he was not permitted to erect in the streets). His energetic spirit reassured the Catholics, and their numbers increased. On his pastoral visits he toured small towns in the high plateaus and deserts of the interior, traveling by truck, horse, or mule. In each town he walked about among the faithful and taught catechism to the children. He was welcomed here more cordially. He and his clergy were as poor as the people, and he defended the position of the workers in the disputes at the saltpeter works.
In 1925 he was transferred to La Serena. He continued his work as religious propagandist, catechist, and missionary. Again he was in an area indifferent to religion, and the Freemasons attacked him harshly; he replied with his polemical book, Misterio. The poverty of the prelate and the clergy was aggravated by a fire at the episcopal residence in which everything, including his library, was lost. One Catholic school had to close because of lack of funds. Caro Rodríguez continued his visitations of the interior and fostered piety by holding Eucharistic congresses. On his visitations his first stops were the hospitals and the jails; throughout his life he visited patients in the hospitals daily. In 1939 the Diocese of La Serena was elevated to an archbishopric, but that year he was transferred to Santiago as archbishop.
In Santiago he was faced with new problems in the needs of a growing urban population. He established 67 parishes, most of them within the city. To solve the problem of vocations, he fostered the recruitment of clerical students; built a new seminary in Apoquindo; sought the collaboration of male religious orders, who worked in the schools and parishes; and increased by 25 the number of religious congregations for women dedicated to teaching and charitable works. He continued the work of the Sacred Heart, Marian, and Eucharistic congresses, opened the votive shrine of Maipú (dedicated to the Virgin del Carmen), and presided at the first Chilean Provincial Council. His deep concern with social problems led him to originate or support Christian Social Aid, the Institute of Rural Education, the ASICH (an association of Catholic labor unions), Young Catholic Workers, and the USEC (Union of Catholic Employers). He was very interested in modern methods of communication applied to the apostleship and founded Radio Chilena and the newspaper Luz y Amor. He was made a cardinal in 1945.
Caro Rodríguez, a holy, humble, and simple man, was very popular, especially among the poor. He devoted his strong will and active intelligence to searching for, and carrying out personally, new methods for the apostleship. A prolific writer, he published 33 books and pamphlets of Catholic propaganda, instruction, and apologetics written for the general reader. He produced a great deal for the newspaper and sent out a number of pastoral letters. His works were published in inexpensive editions so they could be given out generously. At his death about 400,000 copies of his works were in circulation.
Bibliography: j. vanherk moris, Monseñor José María Caro: Apóstol de Tarapacá (Santiago de Chile 1963).