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It seems strange to me to call him “Lorenzo.” Every time I speak about him I try to decide in my head what I should call him. I have not made up my mind yet, so sometimes Monsignor, sometimes Lorenzo and sometimes Albacete. Each time it feels like it is not right. After he died, I realized that we almost never called each other by name. When I think of him I think of an extremely familiar presence, who would call me up passing by the entrance of the Memores Domini house in Bronxville where I lived and he used to come visit often, “psst,” “hey,” “you,” “mira,” “come here,” is basically how we used to call each other to get the other’s attention. This moment would immediately be followed by me almost always running towards him to hug him and kiss his hands. When I arrived to New York, his hands were already constantly shaking due to the Parkinson. Although he had not been diagnosed yet. I noticed that he was ashamed of it sometimes, for not being able to control his hands. I think it is because of this that the affective gesture I developed towards him was to kiss his hands; it was always the way I would say hello and goodbye. It was also the last gesture I ever did towards him, before they closed the casket with his body in the church in Puerto Rico; I kissed his hands and I said goodbye, for now. I don’t know to how many conferences I brought him to, walking him to the stage holding his hand like a child. He would tease me and say that we all thought he was a helpless old man, but that we were wrong about this. We would both laugh, but he never let go of my hand. His hellos and goodbyes to me were always a gaze accompanied by some kind of joke, often with a reference to our Puerto Rican culture. But it is that gaze, that gaze that is the thing I will never forget, the thing I can’t find a proper name for and the thing that I miss every single day since he died. When you are child, you learn to call that gaze “father”, but when you get a non-biological father as an adult you recognize that mysterious “fatherhood” that is generated by faith, but you don’t know exactly how to call it. I met him for the first time at a Communion and Liberation gathering in Chicago. My best friend was friends with Lorenzo and had told me a lot of funny stories about him. I wanted to meet him because my best friend loved him so much, I thought I could too. There was a Mass on the Friday we arrived and I, being true to my culture and my personality, was running late for it. I had tried to meet him before but he was always surrounded by people. Running towards Mass I found him outside by himself and I could not resist, this was my chance. So I stopped running and went to introduce myself. But it was so curious to me that he was sitting there by himself that before I said who I was I asked him: “Aren’t you supposed to be in there?” The Mass had already started. He looked at me and said: “I know it by heart, I know what they do to Him, He dies in the end…” with the tone one would use to describe what happens in a Mexican “telenovela.” I laughed. Then he said: “… but don’t worry, He resurrects after and is all great!” Then he asked me who I was. I remember thinking, “what a strange priest…” I met him on other occasions at Communion and Liberation events and was fascinated by his way of talking about things. But my relationship with him happened when we were both living in New York and he used to come often to our house. He loved me before I even said a word, at first I thought it was because I was Puerto Rican too, but getting to know many of his children I understood it was just him, he would love you from the first moment and somehow you knew that. The day I recognized him as a father took a while though. I am not as good as he is. I was struggling with confession and I decided to ask him about it. We talked about the sacrament a couple of times, but then it occurred to me that this was something he could concretely accompany me to discover, because he was a priest. I asked him if I could make my confession with him. I had never confessed with a priest that knew me, I don’t know why but it made me really nervous to even think about it. The day came and this nervousness came out, I kept stalling, talking about other things… At a certain point he looked at his watch and said, “Well, are you going to do this?” I told him I was thinking that maybe it was not a good idea. I was afraid, I was actually thinking it was a terrible idea! I was thinking that then he would know all my evil and would not love me anymore. He said, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I just want to say that at a certain point I have to leave, in case you want to do it.” I said, “Okay, let’s do it now.” I began to confess my sins, covering my face with my hands because I didn’t want him to look at me. I started to list things, at the end of the first statement he said, “I do that too,” I continued and he said it again. The third time he said it I uncovered my face and looked at him and said, “Is this my confession or your confession? Because let me tell you, there is nothing I can do for you; absolution is going one way here and it is from you to me. The only thing I can do for you is listen…” He laughed and then told me to be serious with the sacrament, so I continued. It was the only time he ever told me to be serious. When I finished, I felt the weight of my fear for him to stop loving me, it felt like that moment would never end, I raised my gaze again and looked at him. He was looking at me with all the tenderness in the world, I pray to God to never forget that instant. He said, “Well, now that we have discovered each other as accomplices in sin, let us pray so that we can always discover each other accomplices in redemption.” It was that moment, it was that very moment, when I became his daughter. I shared a life with him for four years, we laughed, we fought, we suffered, we prayed, we discovered Jesus more and more, we discussed Puerto Rico, food, politics, literature, movies, his life, my life, everything we would be interested in talking about. But I have to say, my life with “Lorenzo” was an amazing adventure made of a walk with somebody that is holding your hand to discover redemption over and over and over again. There is nobody that would make you laugh so hard as he made you discover the flesh of Christ and cry inside your soul so deep because mercy is present than Lorenzo Albacete. To go to confession with him was the best idea I ever had and to allow myself to be his daughter is the greatest gift of my life. In the end it was he who held my hand and who will always do so, until I see him again and I can run to kiss it.- Camil Martinez
I couldn't possibly do justice here to what this man has meant in my life. I was his student at the JP II Institute in 1995 (the last class to have him before the Pope sent him to Puerto Rico). He became a friend and mentor until his death in 2014. I sought him out because he had something I desperately needed: freedom. This man had encountered something that enabled him to be free... a man without masks: what you saw was what you got. And I loved him for it. His wit (nay, more, his hilarity), his wisdom, his "unorthodox orthodoxy", his totally unrepeatable person left an indelible mark on my life.
- Christopher West.
Just four (vital) experiences in my life with Monsignor Albacete:
1) The first time I saw or heard Albacete was at a book presentation at the University of Chicago in 2006 on The Religious Sense. I was teaching high school theology at the time and ironically on the way to losing my faith. My friend Fr. Charles dragged me to this talk while I was practically kicking and screaming - anything but another talk on theology! I teach the stuff all day long! I was closed. I remember from the very beginning of the presentation he had me cracking up and gladly scandalized. He told a joke of one of his favorite comics in which some fat Americans had flown all the way to the Himalayas or somewhere to ask the meditating guru what the meaning of life was. He opened his eyes and exclaimed, "I'm sitting here in my underwear with my eyes closed all day long and you're asking me what the meaning of life is?! I have no idea!" And he went on like this telling jokes, and cussing. I was enthralled and hooked. I couldn't put him in a category. This guy wasn't concerned with convincing me of anything or hearing himself speak, but he had already become an original presence right in front of me. Of course the rest of the talk was amazing, like being led by a master detective on a search, but the detective loving reality much more than his own presumptions of it (I still have those intense notes), and that night I changed my entire lesson for teaching the next day to his (which the students loved because we focused on the questions and not the answers for once). Though in high demand, he was so kind to me after the talk. And his presence and freedom was so strong that you just wanted to follow him wherever he went. In reflecting on that night I see that he had, for the first time in my life, given me the radically liberating permission that I cannot reach the "X," but that It has to come down to me. And of course the liberating permission to stop trying to kill my humanity in the name of a false idea of faith. I was stunned. That night I would say I joined the CL Movement.
2) I ended up at the national CLU vacation that summer in Oregon. We were at some kind of Protestant retreat camp and they were very insistent on their 4 unbelievable rules: No Smoking, No Drinking, No Cussing, and No Chewing Gum. Albacete arrived a day later, got out of his car with a cigarette in his mouth, and when some CLU girls ran up to him yelling, "Albacete there's no smoking allowed here!" he responded, "What the f---?" thus breaking half of the rules in his first 10 seconds of being there. (Needless to say after a week of us we were never allowed to go to that camp again.) When he spoke, the entire room of us crazy CLU kids were entranced. He said things that literally changed my reductive understanding of Christianity and Christ as I was listening, because it was true and human. It was miraculous. He had such a tenderness and joviality with us all, but also challenged us a ton. "I'm terrified of sounding like piety. It's not piety. The heart-problem and the Christ-problem are the same!" I felt so alive and so free, as if I had met something impossible that people search for and don't find their whole lives, and it just embraced me. I finally didn't have to be on my own anymore. He also actually participated in the skits and was... incredible. I soon enrolled in the Fraternity after that vacation. 3) In 2007 at the diaconia (a meeting of CL leaders) in San Diego, after the young workers had an intense meeting with Fr. Carrón and Msgr. Albacete, though he looked tired and uninterested in talking to anyone, I asked if we could talk, and he simply said "Come with me." There were others but he ignored them. He took a turn into the hotel halls and then I realized we were going into his hotel room and I was shocked that he actually would let a "nobody" like me disturb him in his own room. The place was a mess. Then I was even more shocked when he said he had the smoke detector battery taken out and lit a cigarette. So of course I smoked with him. I felt completely embraced. He listened to my problems and spent a long time talking with me. It was beautiful. This, I see, is the Church. (These three experiences were like living the trilogy with him.) 4) At a Crossroads board meeting in 2012, Angelo Sala gave a great introduction in which he described the dramatic situation of society today. Albacete's response was exceptional and prophetic, which is why I quote it: Albacete began, "I see on my schedule here that I have 30-35 minutes. I only need around four. First of all, in light of the dramatic description of our present cultural situation, out there and in here and within us, where there exists, a kind of virus that is hostile to Christianity. Let’s be even more precise—it is hostile to the reality of an Incarnation; that is, hostile to the reality of a God that is present in history, within history, while remaining the God of history. This we all the time experience a clash, except those of us who are watching old I Love Lucy reruns, or something like that. No matter how strong it seems, or how weak and just getting there this situation seems to be, no matter how negative, how strong, the forces appear that threaten to crush this awareness in us of this Mysterious Presence, no matter what... that cultural battle has already been won by Christ. We cannot proceed from the perspective of a battle that has not already been won." More than anything to me, you were an absolutely free man who lived the victory of Christ here in front of us as if you were already in heaven. Thank you for everything, Monsignor! - Jonathan Ghaly
Shared from an October 29, 2014 post on the blog Never Give Up:I have read so many moving stories over the past four days. People have recalled the first time they met Lorenzo Albacete and the impact he had upon their lives. They have all remarked upon his love for life, his freedom, his joy, and of course his unparalleled sense of humor. For many, he was instrumental in their encounter with Christ through the charism of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, wherein he had found his spiritual home. For me it was wonderful over the past twenty years to see his own profound personal charism enlarged and made so abundantly fruitful by being inserted within the charism of CL. It freed him to be a hundred times more himself (if that's possible to imagine) by lifting the profound melancholy burden of what had been his somewhat lonely sensibility and brilliance... or rather, transforming it more and more into an intense compassion.As I look back over the years, I can't identify the "moment" when I first met this remarkable, unforgettable man. It's all blended into my original encounter thirty-five years ago with the whole crazy, big hearted, tireless, exuberant, uncompromisingly Catholic crowd that founded Christendom College.
Lorenzo must have dropped in at some point in those days, or at least he was talked about and loved like an uncle in the family. At that time (the late seventies and early eighties) "the family" was a circle that moved through Washington, DC and the newly established Arlington diocese all the way out to this very Front Royal where I find myself today.This past January, the annual New York Encounter featured a beautiful little "thing" (I don't exactly know what to call it. Lorenzo called it "the two bums"). Basically, it was an excuse for two old friends to shoot the breeze and share memories with the rest of us (I wasn't there, but I watched the video): Lorenzo Albacete and Sean O'Malley, friends for forty-five years.
It was a friendship that formed around the Hispanic Catholic Center in Washington, DC, and it had a place within the larger circle of offbeat Catholics in the city. "Offbeat" is an understatement.
Lorenzo had cut his own teeth writing and editing for what he recently referred to as "the controversial but irresistible magazine called Triumph." This is a good characterization of a magazine, and a bunch of Catholic writers and social critics, who were outside of every box in that era (and this era too). It's easy to dismiss Triumph as a little nutty, because, well... they were a little nutty.
Sometimes they were a LOT nutty! But the Triumph bunch took the conviction that Jesus really is "King" (radically, as in Jesus is the concrete reason for everything), followed it through to even the most outrageous conclusions for politics and society, and tried to put it into practice (with their Summer Institutes in Spain, for example). There was an intuition at the center of it all, a mysterious grace, but it was so easy to forget it and be diverted from it by the upheaval of the times. Christ became rarefied in ideas, some brilliant and prescient, others distracted, confused, or preposterous. It was also too easy to turn Christ's lordship over all things into a moralistic program to be implemented by human efforts. (Nevertheless, years later, after he had joined CL, he said to me with a twinkle in his eye, but not enough to be entirely joking, "Ah, Triumph! Everything they predicted has come true!") Needless to say, the magazine offended everyone on the American political spectrum, and rather relished doing it (too much, I think). But the wild, irresistible zeal of the Triumph circle was poured out in various ways, and matured into priestly vocations, educational institutions (like Christendom College), and dedication to works of mercy (especially among the Hispanic population). It cannot be denied that Lorenzo and other young people in the late 1960's got a taste from them of a proposal for a life centered on the Incarnation and a passion for Christ living in the Church. Cardinal O'Malley, who presided at his funeral yesterday, is one of a group of Lorenzo's oldest friends. There are others from that group, some of whom still have a hand in the workings of Christendom College, who remember him and have many hilarious stories from those early years. They are praying for him now. I reflect on these old friendships of his not only to do justice to those who will always hold him dear, but also because I know these people. I know these friendships and how they came out of a context that was deeply formative of Albacete's faith, character, and vocation. One of the environments that emerged from this context still forms my daily life, even as I also approach 25 years as a member of Communion and Liberation....I am irenic by temperament and now disabled by circumstances, but I do not think that a lack of boldness or strength is the reason why I haven't caused a provocative ruckus all around. I am convinced that attempts of this kind would be violent. Rather, it is something I am called to suffer. And although I often fail and forget about it all, I am grateful for this call -- because it is a suffering for unity within the Church, among the members of Christ's body. So why do I bring this up here? Because this is one of the reasons why Lorenzo was so dear to me: he understood the tension that I live. He understood it from within, and he challenged me to live all of its factors, to resist the temptation to reduce or escape from anything. He did this, ironically, by taking me seriously in my life, my work, and its challenges. He gave no grand discourses about this "problem." Rather, he accompanied me, simply, when we had discussions, or on the phone, in making decisions about my lectures, publications, and even taking trips (back when I was able to do that kind of thing). He also helped guide me through another environment that we both knew well: the realm of academic theology. Lorenzo and I really became friends during his years at the John Paul II Institute. I was already a graduate student at the Dominican House of Studies, at a time when lay theology students were unusual. The Institute invaded the public space of the Dominican House and set up a coffee lounge. I began to hang around with the other lay students who came. I even cross registered for some courses, thanks to which I had the amazing experience of having Lorenzo as a teacher. His combination of genius, awe inspiring expressiveness, and epic humor have not been exaggerated. He spoke about the Trinity with such beauty and depth. There were times when I left the classroom thinking my head was going to explode, or rather my entire finite being!
He would bring his presentation to a very powerful and sublime moment, and then -- with a twinkle in his eye -- break off, deepen the tone of his resonant voice, and utter a thunderous joke that, like all his humor, expressed the truth while also getting us to laugh... at ourselves. He would cry out:Veil your faces before the Mystery!It was a joke. But we were discussing the Mystery, as He revealed Himself. So it was funny and also, I would have to say, beautiful. One time we decided to bring tissues or head coverings to the classes until a moment like that came. And when it finally did, we all pulled them out and covered our faces. And Lorenzo laughed. His laugh was funny in itself, and infectious. He loved a joke that turned around on him; indeed, he was ready to turn the humor on himself if no one else offered to do it. He saw humor as a form of play, the innocent play that needs no justification beyond itself because it is a fundamental aspect of being. In an infinite, transcendent, supereminent way, God plays. He is play. But I can't reproduce the atmosphere of the classroom here. I can only say that Lorenzo could bring me to a point where I was worshiping the Lord and laughing to the point of tears, simultaneously.
It was like a foretaste of eternal life. I remember watching the friendship unfold between Lorenzo and "Don Angelo" Scola. He would go on about how "I am scheming for Scola to become Pope so that I can be made a Cardinal and get a cushy job in the Vatican!" Don Angelo was still just a priest at the time.... In Washington, Lorenzo taught a course that Scola had designed, called Theological Foundations of Interpersonal Communion. This was fun. He would arrive, disheveled, sometimes twenty or more minutes late, with a fistful of scribbled papers. Of course we waited for him, because no one wanted to miss the show. When he finally arrived, he would stare at his papers on the desk and scratch his head and say, "I know absolutely NOTHING about this course; I've shamelessly plagiarized it all from Angelo Scola!" He claimed that he needed to have long conversations on the phone with Scola the night before class in order to have the slightest clue over the topic to be covered. Of course, he would then put down his notes and embark upon his usual brilliant, riveting, and hilarious exposition. During all this time, he found himself moving from being a "friend of CL" to being a member of CL without knowing exactly when it happened. Angelo Scola had led him to Giussani, who asked him to "help" the movement in America. I remember one year we had a "Hospitality Room" for CL at the hotel where the Bishops' Conference was having its annual meeting. Lorenzo would go down during the evening reception, and come back a few minutes later arm in arm with a bishop or a cardinal (or two) and of course they were laughing as they entered the room. We met a lot of bishops that weekend. He had am amazing conviction that something was really happening in the still young and fragile Washington CL community.
Then there was the time I introduced my fiancee to him at a dinner gathering. The very first thing he said to Eileen was, "Oh, you must develop a devotion to St. Rita of Cascia. She is the patroness of women with very difficult husbands!" He delivered this in a completely deadpan voice, but I laughed, of course. Only long after, when Eileen had grown to love him too, did she tell me that when he said that she did not get it... at all.... She thought, "who is this strange, insulting man?" I do believe, however, that it became clear to her before the end of dinner. At the very beginning of this enormous post, I mentioned what had sometimes struck me as the "lonely sensibility and brilliance" that weighed on Lorenzo for a long time, but that grew into a great compassion in his later years. I know that he was a man who suffered much, even though he claimed that the only suffering he ever had to endure was finding a parking space. We knew how much he loved his family, how he looked after his mother in the illness of her final years, and how he cared for his disabled brother with such love and attention. Though he never told me, I would not be surprised to find that he himself had some measure of interior familiarity with that "dark night" which is not primarily mystical but rather the fruit of a large complex brain and a perceptive spirit, joined together in the human person who can't avoid experiencing the high grandeur and the deep misery of life. He never told me anything about this, but whatever may be the case, I always felt that he looked upon me in my frailty with immense tenderness. I could keep going here, but I think Lorenzo wants me to wrap up this gig and get this out before everyone gets tired of his "virtual wake" (after all, there's no food or drink at this thing). Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the soul of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. It's hard just to realize that he is no longer on this earth. No matter how great our faith, we still can't help missing the person. I'm a little surprised by my own grief, but Lorenzo refuses to allow me to "cheat" or evade that experience. I must embrace the whole reality: the sorrow, the hope, the confidence, the prayers, the memories, and the humor that pervades everything like the first light of the dawning resurrection -- which is the hope of us all.- John Janaro
He made me laugh more times than I can count. But beyond that, he changed my life. The Theology of the Body talks I have been giving for the past 25 years come STRAIGHT out of his class notes. And every once in a while, when I'm giving a talk, I lapse into a Puerto Rican accent...- Mary Beth Bonnaci
Every year, around this date, I remember Albacete's last words, as they appear in the funeral memory card we received in Puerto Rico: "You see Jesus always comes... He wants to be with us. AMEN." Lolo... pray for us!- Melissa Martínez
Lorenzo always had the most fantastic laugh! He toned it down a bit after he was ordained, not because he laughed any less but probably out of a sense of decorum ;-) Back around 1970, I was blessed to attend the Christian Commonwealth Institute in El Escorial, Spain. Run by the folks from Triumph Magazine, it was an awesome experience, really beyond description. Anyway, Lorenzo, Mark Pilon (now Father Pilon), and I took a side trip one weekend to Lisbon, Portugal. When we arrived, we were all a little bit "punchy" from the travel. Somehow we ended up at an ice cream parlor that proudly offered their largest creation - "El Monumental"! I can assure you that there was no exaggeration in naming this creation - it was astonishingly HUGE! Once delivered to our table, we all began to laugh at the absurdity of this gigantic mountain of ice cream before us, and if you know Lorenzo's laugh, it is quite infectious. Tears begin to flow from our unrestrained laughter, followed by various snorts trying to hold it back which just made it worse, and it just spiraled out of control. Lorenzo even got up to go to the CR to wash his face and try to calm himself, but the minute he came back the whole thing started all over. I can't remember if we ever finished El Monumental, but I do remember my sides and stomach were sore from our laughter storm for the remainder of the trip.- Robert Welsh