Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero?

Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero

 

Today at a private audience in the Vatican Pope Francis heard a plea for the Roman Catholic Church’s beatification[1] of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The petitioner was Mauricio Funes, the President of El Salvador.[2]

President Funes & Pope Francis
President Funes &            Pope Francis 

 

Funes  gave the Pope a reliquary containing a piece of the bloodstained garment Msgr. Romero was wearing when he was assassinated on March 24, 1980. Created by the Sisters of the Hospital of Devine Providence, whose adjacent chapel was the site of the assassination, the reliquary monstrance (vessel for display of a relic) is in the shape of a cross with the arms depicting stylized human figures representing the participation of the people of God in the death of the Archbishop. (It is shown in the above photo.)

President Funes also told the Pope that Funes had been a pupil of Father RutilioGrande, whose assassination in 1977 had inspired Romero. The Pope apparently responded that Grande should also be beatified because of his love for the poor and for his persecution.

Afterwards President Funes met with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

The Vatican’s subsequent press release said that the Pope had expressed “satisfaction . . .  for the good relations between the Holy See and the nation of El Salvador. In particular, Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero y Galdamez of San Salvador was spoken of and the importance of his witness for the entire nation.”

As a Christian of the Protestant and Presbyterian persuasion, my church does not have official saints. However, I regard Romero as my saint as he already is the saint of the Salvadoran people. My many posts about Romero discuss my belated discovery of him on my first trip to El Salvador in 1989, his powerful, courageous resistance to the many human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government and military, his assassination and funeral, the cases about his assassination in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S. federal court and remembering him in music, film, art and books and at Westminster Abbey in London.

I also have developed a great respect for Father Rutilio Grande. I attended his memorial mass in 2003 not far from where he was assassinated on a country road and reviewed that memorable occasion in a post.


[1]  As I understand, beatification is a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process of becoming a saint. A person who is beatifiedis given the title “Blessed” in English.

[2] This post is based upon articles in the Washington Post, Diario Latino, LaPagina and SuperMartyrio, the last of which is a blog devoted to following the process of Romero’s becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Oscar Romero at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London, UK
Romero Statue, Westminster Abbey, London, UK

In 1998 Westminster Abbey in London opened its gallery of Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. Their 10 statues are set in outside niches above the main entrance. The Abbey did so to proclaim that the 20th century was one of Christian martyrdom greater than in any previous period in the history of the church.[1]

In niche number 6 is the statue of Oscar Romero. He stands between the statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great U.S. civil rights leader and preacher, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazi regime just before the end of World War II for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.[2]

The biographical essay about Romero in a book about this gallery of martyrs is by Philip Berryman, an U.S. liberation theologian and leading authority on Christianity in Central and South America.

Berryman was in El Salvador in March 1980 and heard Romero’s famous homily ordering the military to stop the repression. Immediately afterwards, Berryman said he expressed his amazement at Romero’s boldness in saying what the Salvadoran military officers must have thought was treasonous. The next day when Berryman heard that Romero had been shot, he rushed to the hospital only to find out that Romero had died. Shortly after the assassination, he reports that Ignacio Ellacuria, the Rector of the Universidad de Centro America (UCA), celebrated a mass and said that with Archbishop Romero, God had visited El Salvador.[3]

Berryman recounts the familiar story about Romero’s being conservative and soft-spoken when he was appointed Archbishop in early 1977 and being converted to social and political justice after the murder of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande. To the same point, he quotes another friend of Romero, Jesuit priest and liberation theologian at UCA, Jon Sobrino, who said that when Romero gazed “at the mortal remains of Rutilio Grande, the scales fell from his eyes. Rutilio had been right! The kind of pastoral activity, the kind of church, the kind of faith he had advocated had been the right kind after all. . . .  [I]f Rutilio had died as Jesus died, if he had shown that greatest of all love, the love required to lay down one’s very life for others–was this not because his life and mission had been like the life and mission of Jesus? . . . Ah then, it had not been Rutilio, but Oscar who had been mistaken! . . .  And Archbishop Romero , , , [made] a decision to change.” In short, Grande’s life and death gave Romero a new direction for his life and the strength to pursue it.[4]

Romero, according to Berryman, prepared his homilies in consultation with a team of priests and lay people to review the situation in the country. Then he would write the homily from his notes, the newspapers of the week and the Biblical texts and commentaries. The homilies themselves usually lasted about 45 minutes, mostly devoted to a systematic and thematic reflection on the Biblical texts for the day, but also with Romero’s observations on the human rights violations of the prior week.[5]

Berryman also comments on the strained relationship between Romero and the U.S. government. Early in 1978, for example, Romero met with Terrance Todman, the U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who urged Romero to have a less confrontational and more constructive relationship with the Salvadoran government. Romero immediately responded that the U.S. and Rodman did not understand what was happening in El Salvador. “The problem is not between Church and government, it’s between government and people. . . . It’s not the church, much less the archbishop! If the government improved its treatment of the people, we will improve our relations with the government.”[6]

The Anglican Dean of Westminster Abbey came to El Salvador for the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination in 2000 and participated in a mass at the El Salvador de Mundo (the Savior of the World) traffic circle lead by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles. I cried during the service when Salvadorans passed the peace to me after all my country had done to support the Salvadoran government during their civil war.


[1] Andrew Chandler, Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (Westminster Abbey; London 1999); Andrew Chandler (ed.), The Terrible Alternative–Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century (Cassell; London 1998).

[2] Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century at 3, 8, 10, 13.

[3]  The Terrible Alternative at 159-60. Father Ellacuria, of course, was one of the six Jesuit priests murdered by the Salvadoran military in November 1989. (See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011).)

[4]  Id. at 160, 164-65; Jon Sobrino, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections at 9-10 (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1990); Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011). Jon Sobrino, whom I met at UCA in April 1989, escaped being murdered with his fellow Jesuits in November 1989 because he was lecturing in Southeast Asia. (Jon Sobrino, Ignacio Ellacuria, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador at 4-9 (Orbis Books; Maryknoll, N.Y. 1990).)

[5]  The Terrible Alternative at 167-68.

[6]  Id. at 170.

Remembering Oscar Romero in Books

As we have seen, Oscar Romero is remembered in music, film and art.[i] Now it is the turn for books.

There are many books about Oscar Romero. Here are comments about those in my personal library, most of which have been cited in my posts about Romero.

The leading biography is by Father James R. Brockman, S.J., The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1982). Brockman interviewed friends and associates of the Archbishop and examined Romero’s files and archives. Another biography is Placido Erdozain, Archbishop Romero: Martyr of El Salvador (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1981) (John McFadden & Ruth Warner, Translators).

Four books have the words of Romero himself (in English translation).

His diary was begun on March 31, 1978, after he had been Archbishop for just over a year, and the last entry was March 20, 1980, just four days before he was assassinated. For these two years he records many of the events, meetings and conversations of his busy life. His conflicts with the Vatican, his fellow Salvadoran bishops and with the U.S. government are mentioned as are some of the death threats that he received. Although he discusses some of his own thoughts, it is not a diary of the soul or a private record of his spiritual life. (Archbishop Oscar Romero, A Shepherd’s Diary (St. Anthony Messenger Press; Cincinnati, OH 1993)(Irene B. Hodgson, Translator).)

Three books contain extracts from Romero’s homilies, pastoral letters, interviews, statements and articles. They are essential in obtaining clear insight into his Christian and theological beliefs and his statements on human rights. (Oscar Romero, The Church Is All of You: Thoughts of Archbishop Oscar Romero (Winton Press; Minneapolis, MN 1984) (James R. Brockman, S.J., Translator & Compiler); Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero(Harper & Row; San Francisco, CA 1988) (James R. Brockman, S.J., Translator & Compiler); Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1985) (Michael J. Walsh, Translator).)

Three other books offer others’ memories and reflections on Romero. (Jon Sobrino, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1990)(Robert R. Barr, Translator); Marie Dennis, Renny Golden & Scott Wright, Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 2000); Maria Lopez Vigil, Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic (EPICA; Washington, D.C. 2000)(Kathy Ogle, Translator)(fascinating collection of memories of Romero from hundreds of Salvadorans chronologically organized as multiple images of the Archbishop).)

Romero’s inclusion in Westminster Abbey’s gallery of Christian martyrs of the 20th century is set forth in Andrew Chandler, Christian       Martyrs of the Twentieth Century(Westminster Abbey; London 1999); Andrew Chandler (ed.), The Terrible Alternative–Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century (Cassell; London 1998).

Wonderful photographs of Romero as a young boy, seminarian, priest and Archbishop along with the shocking ones of him just after he had been killed and of his funeral are found in Romero (Equipo Maiz, El Salvador 2000).

Music about Romero appears on two CD-ROMs: Romero (Equipo Maiz 2000); Homenaje a Monsenor Romero–30 Aniversario– Marzo 1980-2010 (El Salvador Government 2010).

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[i] Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct.14, 2011); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Film (Oct. 15, 2011); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Art (Oct. 16, 2001).