San Juan – The first Puerto Rican to be made cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Luis Aponte Martínez, has died at the age of 89.
The announcement came Tuesday from San Juan's Auxilio Mutuo Hospital where Martínez took his last breath.
Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño declared a state of mourning for the next five days there will be, with all Puerto Rican and U.S. flags at public buildings on the island be flown at half-staff.
People from all sectors of society expressed their condolences for the death of the cardinal, who was ordained exactly 62 years ago Tuesday.
The archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, said that he will remember his friend as "a Puerto Rican who deeply loved his homeland" and was an advocate of the island's culture.
He recalled that Aponte Martínez founded the Puerto Rican bishops conference and asked Pope Paul VI to designate Our Lady of Divine Providence as patroness of Puerto Rico.
The late clergyman’s personal physician, Ricardo Martínez Duran, said that despite the illness he was suffering, the cardinal was in high spirits the last days of his life, even inviting Duran to play a game of dominoes.
Merengue singer Elvis Crespo said on Twitter that when he was a boy, he saw Aponte Martínez and listened to "the words of faith and love" in his sermons.
"Rest in peace Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez," said former Major League Baseball star Carlos Delgado.
Puerto Rico to Occupy: Clean Up After Yourselves
Aponte Martínez, born in the district of Lajas, pursued his religious studies at a Boston seminary and was ordained April 10, 1950.
On July 23, 1960, he was named by Pope John XXIII as auxiliary bishop of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city, and became archbishop of San Juan four years later.
On March 5, 1973 he was anointed cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
Aponte Martínez took part in the conclaves that elected John Paul I and John Paul II and persuaded the latter to come to Puerto Rico in 1984, the only papal visit the island has ever had.
He retired thirteen years ago in May 1999.