After leaving grieving teammates at Marlins Park Wednesday afternoon, the hearse carrying José Fernández’s body arrived at La Ermita de la Caridad in Coconut Grove, where his mother and grandmother leaned into his casket, bestowing heartbreaking kisses.
The solemn crowd stood watch, a violin playing “Ave Maria.”
A light rain briefly fell on the crowd that gathered at the shrine to watch the hearse arrive about 2:40 p.m. The shrine for Our Lady of Charity represents a special place for many exiles who have sought solace at the church, where a mural depicts the Virgin Mary and key figures in Cuban history. On Wednesday, a photograph of Fernández sat beside its sanctuary doors.
After the procession arrived, the hearse then circled the church once, backing up to steps where the Rev. Juan Rumin Domínguez waited to say a Prayer for the Departed over the coffin. Fernández’s mother, Maritza, and grandmother, Olga, both weeping, as well as his pregnant girlfriend and a train of friends and family, exited their cars. Some wore white “José Day” T-shirts. Others wore black Fernández jerseys. His grandmother wore a white jersey, “Miami” spelled out in pink.
As they gathered around Domínguez, a man helped steady the mother and grandmother.
Domínguez then issued his blessing and splashed the casket with holy water. Afterward, the women bowed their heads over the coffin and kissed it. Family members then draped Fernández's 2016 All-Star game jersey on the casket, No. 16 face up.
As they walked back to the cars, people from the crowd approached the family. One man was met with hugs from the mother, who wept inconsolably into his arms. He later identified himself to a Miami Herald reporter as Bernardo Soto, a baseball reporter who covered Fernández's early days in baseball.
“Joseíto, I used to call him,” he said, unable to get much more out.
Less than 10 minutes later, the family returned to their cars for the trip to St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Westchester.
Mourners had gathered outside the Coconut Grove church about 2 p.m. as church bells rang.
A few dozen stood along red velvet ropes outside the shrine's door while some meandered behind the church, along Biscayne Bay, staring into the water. One wore an old-school black Florida Marlins jersey, from long before Fernández’s days on the team.
Ahead of the funeral procession’s arrival, Domínguez praised the young ballplayer for doing so much in his short life.
“He knew how to make the most of the blessings God gave him,” the priest said.
He then led the small crowd in prayer, reciting a Hail Mary in Spanish.
“May God bless him. May God fill him with love,” Domínguez said of Fernández. “We're so proud of José, of his goals, of the goals he accomplished in this life.
“Let's ask God to help us live life the same way,” Domínguez continued, saying the young pitcherleft behind “a trail of love.”
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who attended the blessing, said the pitcher's death has crushed the city because he represented the best of Cuban exiles.
“My generation adopted him as a son,” said Regalado, who was born in Cuba.
He met Fernández several times: at a ballpark ceremony, when he presented him with a key to the city; at the Three Kings Day Parade, and at a museum dedicated to Brigade 2506, the CIA-sponsored team of exiles formed in 1960 to overthrow Fidel Castro.
“You would think that someone that’s a star would not care as much about his roots, but he did,” Regalado said. “He's the symbol of everything that is Cuba. It's a loss that everyone has felt as if he were family.”
Among the mourners who greeted the funeral procession was 67-year-old Alba Botero of Miami, who said she works for a refugee program that assisted Fernández and other ballplayers, including Orlando “El Duque” Hernández. She never met Fernández but took a vacation day to come pay her respects.
“He was out of the ordinary,” she said. “He was humble. He loved children.”
Before the procession even arrived, 58-year-old Miriam Triana of Miami wept as her cellphone played a live TV broadcast showing the procession's every turn. She opened the photos file on her phone to show off about 20 Fernández pictures she said she’s been sharing on Facebook.
“I'm crying just watching the video,” she said. “All the time he spent at sea. All the time he spent in prison. He did so much for his age. God wanted him by his side. Even though he was expecting a little girl in five months.”
She wiped her eyes.
“I was at the game where he hit his home run. My 13-year-old son plays baseball,” she said. “That little girl about to be born isn't going to know her father. He had his whole life in front of him. He was so young.”
Regalado said he conveyed condolences to Fernández's family Sunday via Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Marlins Community Foundation.
“What can I say to that mother? What can I say to that grandmother?” Regalado said. “We all get goosebumps just thinking about having to bury your child.”