Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete
Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete
Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, theologian, author, physicist and one of the leaders of the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation died Oct. 24 in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. after a lengthy illness. He was 73.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley celebrated a funeral Mass Oct. 28 at St. Mary Church in New York City. Msgr. Albacete was remembered for his keen intellect, a tremendous sense of humor and humanity, and most of all for his ability to bring all those he met “deeply into the Mystery of Christ.”

“(His) capacity for love, compassion, empathy, made Lorenzo a great friend and a great priest, because the goodness of the Good Shepherd could be glimpsed in his goodness,” said Cardinal O’Malley in his homily. “...Lorenzo’s journey was an Emmaus journey where Christ the stranger becomes Christ the friend and liberator. Lorenzo was an eloquent messenger of the joy of the Gospel. He found his strength in the Eucharist, he recognized Jesus in the breaking of the Bread.”

A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Msgr. Albacete attended Sacred Heart Academy in San Juan and later The Catholic University of America.  He earned advanced degrees in space science, applied physics and sacred theology. In 1969, he entered the Theological College Seminary at CUA to study for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington. He was ordained a priest at Metropolitana, San Juan, Puerto Rico on Feb. 17, 1973.

In recent years, he was the national director of the Communion and Liberation movement in the United States and Canada, also serving as chairman until his death of an offshoot, Crossroads Cultural Center, which focuses on the relationship between religion and culture.

 “Communion and Liberation was a Godsend for Lorenzo. And I believe that Lorenzo was a godsend for C.L. God’s loving providence engineered this wonderful match,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “Lorenzo loved young people and was such a gifted teacher and mentor to them. His genius was to be able to dialogue with the culture, science, and the media. His intellect was so bright and still more illumined by his deep faith.”

Msgr. Albacete was also a columnist, whose writings appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times and other publications, as well as a frequent lecturer and debater. He often wrote and spoke on the topic of the intersection of faith and science and other theological and social issues. He was a frequent guest on CNN, PBS, The Charlie Rose Show and EWTN.

A longtime friend of St. John Paul II, Msgr. Albacete met the late pontiff in 1976 when then-Cardinal Karol Wojityla, as the Archbishop of Krakow, visited the United States and then-Father Albacete escorted and drove him around Washington, D.C. and New York City.   

“With his tireless work, he witnessed to us how faith can become ‘intelligence of reality,’ with his ability to recognize and embrace anyone without ambiguity, but for love of the truth that is present in every person,” said Father Julian Carron, the president of Communion and Liberation, in an Oct. 24 statement.

Msgr. Albacete was a co-founder and instructor at the John Paul II Institute in Washington and taught for many years at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. He also served as an advisor on Hispanic affairs to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was a chance encounter with Blessed Paul VI in Bogota, Columbia, that led to his priestly vocation. During the pope’s visit, he blended in with a group of priests to greet the pontiff. When the pope approached him, he confessed he wasn’t a priest, to which Pope Paul VI replied, “Maybe you should think of becoming one.” Soon after, he entered the seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar to the Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, then to St. Camillus Parish, Silver Spring. In 1974, he was assigned as parochial vicar to Christ the King Parish, Silver Spring and from 1976 to 1981 he served as advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the Synod of Bishops. He also served as theological advisor to Cardinal William Baum, the former archbishop of Washington, and to his successor, the late Cardinal James Hickey.

Cardinal O’Malley said Msgr. Albacete’s special brand of humor touched everyone he knew, even those in the Church’s hierarchy. “Cardinal Hickey installed a special phone with an answering machine for priests so that a priest could call it any time if he had a problem. Lorenzo used to call and say things like: “Your Eminence, I’ve lost my car keys, could you help me find them?”

In 1981, Msgr. Albacete was in Rome for continuing studies, and was appointed assistant to the archbishop in theological affairs and parochial vicar, St. Mark the Evangelist, Hyattsville in 1982. He was appointed a member of the John Paul II Institute for Christian Anthropology in Brookline, Mass., from 1985 to 1988 and as instructor of Theology, John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Washington, D.C. from 1988 to 1996.

He was appointed President of the Pontifical Catholic University, Puerto Rico in 1996 and in 1997, as scholar in residence, St. Joseph Seminary. In 2001, he was assigned to minister to the Communion and Liberation Movement, Yonkers, N.Y., where he served until his retirement in 2013.  He was a close friend of C.L. founder, Servant of God, Msgr. Luigi Giussani.

In 2002, he wrote a book, God at the Ritz, Attraction to Infinity, A Priest-Physicist talks about Science, Sex, Politics and Religion. The idea and title came about as a result of a PBS Frontline documentary that Msgr. Albacete consulted on which dealt with the contemporary culture in light of the teachings of St. John Paul II. After a screening at the Ritz Carleton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., he was asked by journalists and critics deep questions about life and death, as well as ones about faith, science, religion and politics.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, friends of the late Msgr. Albacete recalled his brilliant mind, his magnificent wit, and his ability for the common touch. Even in the face of great suffering in his recent years, they also spoke of his joyful disposition. His life, they said, was steered utterly and completely by his abiding love for Jesus Christ.

“He brought out the best in everyone. He was like the pied piper, comfortable with all sorts of people – from cardinals and popes to kids in high school. Everyone was drawn to him,” said Father Francis Early, a longtime friend of Msgr. Albacete, who met him in the late 1960s as fellow parishioners of St. Matthew’s Cathedral while both men were discerning their vocations.

Father Early said he was able to visit Msgr. Albacete in his final days. Before Father Early left Msgr. Albacete’s hospice room, the two old friends offered their priestly blessings upon each other, “with tears in our eyes,” said the priest, who is retired and is in residence at St. Patrick Parish, Rockville.

He said Msgr. Albacete’s particular devotion to the Eucharist was so evident in his final moments when upon receiving the Viaticum, the dying priest’s last spoken sentences were: “Jesus always comes to us. He always wants to be with us.” Those words were later printed on the memorial cards for his funeral Mass.

“It was his last teaching,” said Father Early, who concelebrated Msgr. Albacete’s funeral Mass.  

A Facebook memorial page dedicated to Msgr. Albacete was created after his passing and is filled with an outpouring of heartfelt tributes, photos and remembrances of the late priest. Hundreds of people, many of them members of Communion and Liberation, thanked him for his positive impact on their lives and shared their favorite memories of him.

John Capobianco, another longtime friend of Msgr. Albacete’s, recalled the priest’s decades-long inspiration in his life from the moment he met him.

“Msgr. took his relationship with Jesus and Mary and the saints seriously. Jesus was not just some historical figure or just an example of how to be good, but someone he knew, someone he loved and embraced,” he said. “Msgr. wanted to introduce (Christ) to me and that personal understanding of Him and who He is, set me on a course that changed my life.”

Capobianco, who is the president of Lumen Catechetical Consultants, a Catholic communications company he began in 1982, said his choice of career path is directly attributed to Msgr. Albacete, who served as an advisor to the company throughout the years.

Msgr. Albacete, he said, “has now entered into the mystery himself and that lends itself beautifully to all the teachings of the Church... He was known for his humor, but through it all, he was so serious about his love for Christ and the meaning of that love – that it does conquer death.”

Msgr. Albacete is survived by his brother, Manuel. Interment was in Puerto Rico.