Thousands mourn Jose Fernandez, attend public viewing at St. Brendan

MIAMI (WSVN) - It was a somber day for South Florida, as fans and family stood in line to pay their respects, one by one, to the late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez at St. Brendan Catholic Church, Wednesday night.

Hundreds of thousands of fans not only turned out to Marlins Park and Ermita de la Caridad church to pay their respects during Fernandez’s funeral procession, but they also tuned in online and on air to witness the emotional funeral procession for Fernandez throughout the afternoon.

Before arriving at St. Brendan’s, the procession made its way to Our Lady of Charity in Coconut Grove, where the priest met with Fernandez’s family to offer comfort and support. He also blessed the casket with holy water. The blessing symbolizes baptism, when Catholics are first promised eternal life.

“This is a very sad situation for all of us,” said Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez, “but we are praying with faith and hope for his soul and for his family.”

Inside St. Brendan Catholic Church, the long line led to Fernandez’s casket, where red flowers draped over it and floral wreaths of the Cuban and U.S. flags hung above. Fans passed by the casket, touching it and having a moment to say goodbye to the young Marlins player.

“It’s shocking to see his mom sitting there. And the pictures of him,” said mourner Christina Fernandez, who is not related. “It is hard, hard to go in there and see them.”

Jose Fernandez fans, who were in line for the public viewing, all have their own favorite story or favorite game that revolved around the player, but watching his family in such grief outside the church made the tragedy very real for them.

The family went inside the church before the public was allowed inside.

Fans and local residents gathered at St. Brendan, located at 8725 S.W. 32nd St., hours before the hearse arrived in anticipation to pay their respects.

“I was at the game Saturday and he was right there,” said mourner Kathy Azcue. “I saw him. I just can’t. It’s very hard.”

Many waited in line outside of the church all the way down the block for the public viewing. They finally inched closer to the memorial as the doors opened at 5 p.m. The event is scheduled to end at 11 p.m., Wednesday. “It’s a moment of unity for his family, and a moment of loss, but a moment that maybe our community has gained a hero,” said one woman who waited in line.

When the motorcade arrived at the church with the family, at around 4 p.m., Fernandez’s mother and grandmother, who was wearing a Marlins jersey, exited the vehicle and watched as the casket was taken out and moved into the church.

Those in the crowd suddenly became very quiet and teary-eyed as they watched the family grieve in front of them. “My heart just went out to them because no parent should have to bury their child,” said another woman in the crowd. “Such a talented human being, because he was very kind and compassionate and humble. As big as he was, he represented the Cuban community very well.”

Earlier in the day, family, friends and fans got their chance to be at the side of the 24-year-old’s body one last time at Marlins Park. The hearse paused for team members to surround the hearse and bow their heads in prayer.

Fans of all ages said they wanted to be at the memorial to support Fernandez and his family. “Just coming to see him for the last time and say the last byes,” said one young girl.

Parents in attendance used the tragedy as a teaching moment for their young ones. “I told him that now he’s gone, but you have to try to be like him,” is what one mother told her son.

Eight-year-old Cesar Quirog watched as the hearse carried his hero away. “I feel like we’re always gonna remember him. He will be history for the marlins,” said Quirog. “He was one of the best pitchers ever, I think. For me he was the best.”

There were multiple mothers and grandmothers in the line, and they said their hearts told them that they had to attend the funeral procession to support the Fernandez family. “It is sad, but it’s an honor as well to know that your son is loved by the whole world,” said one Fernandez fan who is also a mother, “so it is a beautiful feeling as well. It’s a very sad feeling, but she has so much to take with her from such a beautiful human being she created.”

Randy Oliva brought his signed Jose Fernandez baseball to the viewing. He said he never missed a game when Fernandez pitched.

A visibly moved Oliva also said he’ll cherish this ball more than he ever imagined. “This is something that I’m trying to keep it forever,” he said. “I’m thinking I will give it to my daughter so she will keep it forever.”

Other fans said that they hope by them being in attendance, it can somehow bring comfort to the family.

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