Loss of a great friend: Padre Mario Adín Cruz Zaldívar

Remebering Padre Mario

Padre Mario Adin Cruz Zaldívar died on August 25th of complications from COVID at a hospital in San Pedro Sula, in the northern part of Honduras.
Fr. Mario was born and ordained in Honduras, as part of a religious order. In the 1980s, he served a community of Salvadoran refugees who’d fled across the Honduran border to escape El Salvador’s civil war. In 1992, at the war’s end, he accompanied them back to San Jose Villanueva, the town just across the highway from COAR. They were still afraid of what might happen to them, and he became their advocate, protector, and pastor. Fr. Bob Sanson, retired priest of the Diocese of Cleveland, recalls “He risked his own life to save some from persecution and rape. He even stood up to authorities and soldiers, and “embellished the truth” that he worked for the United Nations, or whatever he could say to stop the violence!”
While in San Jose, his energy was boundless, building a school, computer center, day care, and overseeing countless services for the parish. He remained steadfast as gangs menaced his community. Fr. Mario had a large parish, which had originally been served by the Cleveland Missionaries. There are also many small hamlets (cantones) over a large area, where he would celebrate Mass – hopefully once a month. The roads (or cowpaths) were and still are very poor, and it was difficult even with a four-wheel vehicle. But he became a close friend of Cleveland missionary, Fr. Ken Myers, who gave up his pastorate in the neighboring parish of Zaragoza in 1980 to found the Children’s Village for the orphans of the Salvadoran Civil War. St. Romero, and the two Cleveland women, Sr. Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and Miss Jean Donovan, would bring orphans and refugees there. Forty years ago, Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980, and the women were martyred December 2,1980. Fr. Ken then named the Village after St. Oscar Romero. Fr. Mario served the children there along with Fr. Myers, and did even more after Fr. Myers’ sudden death from a heart attack in 2002. In fact, many COAR children were brought through our gates by Fr. Mario. When he identified families in distress, he was fearless, yet gentle and compassionate in assessing the situation. Often he had to risk the wrath and reprisals of those who held the children: drug-addicted, mentally ill, or criminal. He extended his pastoral care to frequent visits with his parish’s children, keeping them connected with their families and community as they healed. He often said Mass for the COAR school. His homilies were legendary, enthusiastic and optimistic.

Fr. Bob Sanson, then pastor of St. Joseph Church in Strongsville and member of the Board of Trustees of COAR, was looking for a possible sister parish relationship with a church in El Salvador. He wanted an arrangement that would be a truly reciprocal sharing of blessings and learning from one another. He asked advice from Sr. Mary Pat Driscoll, sister of the Incarnate Word of Houston, Texas and then Director of COAR. She suggested that Fr. Mario would understand and embrace a sister-parish in Cleveland. After preliminaries on-line, Fr. Bob went with a contingent of St. Joseph’s Parishioners in 2004 to meet Fr. Mario, and an agreement was forged and signed.

Fr. Mario was able to come to Cleveland in 2004 as Chaplain to the International Children’s Games held in Cleveland, Ohio. It also provided the opportunity for him to come to St. Joseph’s in Strongsville, where he celebrated Mass with Fr. Bob. A bond was forged with the parishioners which still remains strong. Later, some of the San Jose Villanueva parishioners and teachers were able to make two trips to Strongsville, to meet with teachers and students at Sts. Joseph & John Interparochial School, and also to visit and learn teaching methods at Strongsville High School, with Spanish teacher Tonya Barba. She had also gone with Fr. Bob on many of the visits to Fr. Mario and his parish and had served as translator and advisor.
In 2014, Fr. Mario returned to his home country of Honduras. He ministered in a new diocese in the north – La Ceiba, which is one of the poorest areas, in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. He built up a parish in Esparta, about an hour north of La Ceiba, which had very little money, and they were able to build a church. His Bishop, Michael Lenihan, OFM, a Franciscan from Ireland, who served in a number of parishes in El Salvador during the War, and knows our Cleveland team.
On August 25, Bishop Lenihan notified us that Fr. Mario had passed away from COVID-19, in a hospital in San Pedro Sula, the closest large city. He celebrated the funeral Mass and burial. Fr. Mario will be remembered fondly and devotedly as a wonderful pastor who served his people with all his heart and energy – which was considerable. He managed to find the resources in a very poor country to help raise people out of poverty – especially in his support for his parish school.
Vaya con Dios, amigo y nuestro pastor!