Friday, June 02, 2006

BEATIFIC VISION: The Romero Beatification




THE DAY THAT OSCAR ROMERO IS BEATIFIED, the ceremony will likely be celebrated in San Salvador under norms promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, extending the bishops’ participation in beatifications first set out by Pope John Paul II. As such, the Holy Savior Cathedral where Romero is buried would become the stage for a popular pageantry unlike any other previously seen in Latin America. As the National Catholic Reporter has noted, “Among popular 20th century Catholic icons, no saint-in-waiting figures more prominently than Oscar Romero.” The long awaited beatification would likely draw the largest crowd in Salvadoran history, but also the largest popular gathering of the Latin American church, attracting nearly all of the continent’s contingent of cardinals and bishops. Nothing in the Church’s history would rival it, except the beatification of Mother Teresa and the funeral rites of Pope John Paul.

The spectacle of Salvadoran school children wearing plaid skirts and black dress pants, filing to their designated positions in a large outdoor crowd flooding Plaza Barrios and many blocks around would be carried live over Salvadoran national television, and the VIP seating on the dais in front of the Cathedral would include official delegations from the ruling party, including the President of El Salvador, and the opposition. The Salvadoran military, which once invited Romero’s stinging rebuke would circle the perimeter of the vast multitude to keep order, while police and army helicopters buzz overhead. The ceremony would be punctuated by colorful details, such as the participation of many peasant groups who overrun San Salvador, many of them seeing the capital city for the first time. Of course, political expression would be hard to suppress. Left wing demonstrators would block traffic and burn tires in some streets, but the pressure from civil society and their discreet approval of a heavy police presence to preserve the dignity of the occasion would keep such outbursts from stealing the day’s headlines.

A fair-like atmosphere would prevail for the week leading up to the ceremony over the corridor of San Salvador that runs from the Metropolitan Cathedral downtown, to the Divine Savior landmark five miles to the west. That strip contains the Cuzcatlan Park civil war memorial where Romero’s name appears on a commemorative wall alongside that of thousands of other war victims, and is near the Divine Providence cancer hospital where Romero lived and at whose chapel he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. Mini vans ferrying pilgrims and tourists between these locations, and to the 1989 Jesuit massacre site, and other places of pilgrimage in and around the capital, would pass each other on the streets, the harried passengers laughing in recognition having passed each other at other locations. At the cancer hospital, multi-lingual guides would lead throngs of visitors into the shack where Romero lived, and the line to get into the martyrdom chapel would be measured in hours. The spot where Romero fell at the altar would be hidden under flower offerings that hospital staff would occasionally remove and send to other hospitals.

Romero’s Palm Sunday funeral in 1980 attracted the largest crowd in Salvadoran history at the time, under a military dictatorship all too willing to fire on crowds unfriendly to the government, and bishops and clerics braved a hail of bullets from guards stationed at the nearby National Palace just to be in attendance. Romero’s beatification, under much more auspicious circumstances, would likely draw the attendance of vast numbers of Salvadorans, and unprecendented numbers of visitors. The funeral of Shafick Handal earlier this year attracted vast numbers into the streets of San Salvador. Normal commemorations of Romero’s anniversary already attract thousands of pilgrims every year, and high ranking clerics have taken to leading memorial masses for Romero in various countries. In 2005, Romero masses were celebrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and such prominent prelates as the Archbishop of London and the Archbishop of Dublin. Romero’s beatification would likely be concelebrated by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Papal Nuncio (if not the Pope himself), and the Archbishop of San Salvador. They would likely be joined at the altar by all the archbishops of Central America, and hundreds of other high ranking clerics who would ring the crowd, as they would likely not fit at the altar.
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