Monday, January 07, 2008

TOP ROMERO STORIES OF 2007

As a tribute to Archbishop Romero's prediction that, "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people," here is a recap Romero's presence in El Salvador and elsewhere, during the recently concluded year.

1. Pope Benedict tells the press, "That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt." Although the statement was later revised and finessed by the Vatican to ensure due deference to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Benedict's unedited, off-the-cuff statement reveals that the Church, at its highest echelons, sees Romero much like the rest of the Christian faithful regard him. The Pope also said, that Romero "was certainly a great witness to the faith. He was a man of great Christian virtue, who was committed to peace and against the dictatorship." The significance of the final point has not been commented on, but the Pontiff here acknowledges that the Salvadoran government at the time was a "dictatorship," and that Romero's opposition to it was consistent with "great Christian virtue." More: click here.

2. OAS Controversy: Tutela Legal puts the Salvadoran government to task over El Salvador's lack of compliance with recommendations by the human rights tribunal of the Organization of American States calling for investigation and reparations for Archbishop Romero's assassination. In the October hearing on the matter, the parties revealed that the government had been holding secret negotiations with the Archdiocese of San Salvador over the matter. This revelation lead to a great outcry. Archbishop Sáenz placated the controversy by assuring broad consultations with civil society and not some secret deal. He quietly fired his lawyer, who was not so quiet in his departure. The fallout from the unresolved assassination also pulled the plug on attempts to bestow legislative honors on the man believed to have ordered the murder, with former U.S. Ambassador Robert White urging Salvadorans to demand accountability from the ruling party, founded by the presumed mastermind of the crime. More: click here.

3. Tony Saca and Hugo Chávez agree on one thing -- that Romero deserves to be recognized. The Salvadoran government announced that it would lobby the Vatican for the beatification of Archbishop Romero. Although the move was criticized as a cynical ploy to avoid having to comply with OAS recommendations to investigate and prosecute the case (see story No. 1), it was the first time the Salvadoran state had made a public statement to acknowledge the special place in its history Archbishop Romero holds. It was also, as far as we could tell, the first time ANY government would intervene formally in a canonization case. Not to be outdone, the government of Venezuela hosted a theological conference and opened a website dedicated to Romero. A skeptic there might question why the Chávez regime would care about the Salvadoran cleric, when it has such lousy relations with El Salvador and with the Catholic Church. Or, perhaps there is the intented rub. More: click here and here.

4. Pope Benedict recalls Archbishop Romero during his March 25 "Angelus" prayer. The second time Benedict XVI evoked Archbishop Romero last year was the day after the anniversary of Romero's death. The date -- March 24 -- has been widely adopted by the Church for its commemoration of its "Missionary Martyrs," an off-the-liturgical-calendar-holiday that has spread from Europe to Asia, and many places where it has been taken up with Evangelical zeal. This is literally true, as in modern times, as in the early days of Christianity, "martyrs are the seeds of the Church." The Pope's invocation of Archbishop Romero in St. Peter's Square was the not the first time a pope would cite Archbishop Romero in his official remarks to pilgrims at the Vatican. Pope John Paul did so in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1996. Pope Benedict's reference was correctly interpreted as a signal that the Vatican continues to hold Romero in very high regard. More: click here.

5. Óscar Romero, ¡presente! -- at the Latin American Bishops' Conference in Aparecida. Although the bickering Salvadoran bishops did not elect Archbishop Romero to attend the CELAM conference in 1979, Archbishop Romero's presence has been felt at every gathering of the continent's bishops since Puebla. At the May meeting in Brazil, Romero was cited by none other than his successor, the retiring Archbishop Sáenz. Other bishops also brought up Romero, and even took up a furtive bid to have Romero mentioned in the final document. Msgr. Jesús Delgado and other members of the Salvadoran delegation also kept Romero's name in the air in the hallways of Aparecida. Although there was no dramatic acclamation, the conference that began with the press reporting the Pope's belief that Romero "merits beatification" (see story No. 1), appeared to ratify much of Romero's pastoral approach, in light of the social doctrine of the Church and its "preferential option for the poor." More: click here and here.

6. British Catholics launch the Archbishop Romero Trust. Dedicated by the Catholics, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, and Anglican Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, the Trust was established "to promote knowledge and awareness of the life and work of Archbishop Romero, to commemorate the anniversary of his death annually, and to provide support to human rights and justice initiatives in Latin America." In March, London became the second major European capital where Romero's martyrdom will be formally commemorated with an annual mass (it is already commemorated in Rome by Catholic charities activists like the Londoners involved in the Trust). The Trust also produced an audio report that was aired on Vatican Radio. More: click here and here.

7. High ranking Church officials have continued to praise Archbishop Romero's saintly qualities. In February, this blog named "Doce Cardenales Simpatizantes" -- "Twelve Sympathetic Cardinals," who had endorsed Archbishop Romero's canonization cause or recognized his martyrdom. The list was based on published materials and may not include ALL the cardinals with such beliefs but, nonetheless, the group would represent a significant group in the College of Cardinals. Leading clerics continued to join the litany of the sainthood supporters. Archbishop Paolo Romeo of Palermo stated that "`hatred of the faith' (the legal requirement for martyrdom) was obvious" in Romero's beatification cause. Even across denominational divides, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu quoted Romero in his homilies and took to wearing a Salvadoran cross (see also story No. 6). More: click here and here.

8. Archbishop Romero's name continued to be synonymous with heroic acts of conscience in awards set up in his name. Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss and the immigration activist group No More Deaths took the prestigious Oscar Romero Award for Human Rights awarded by the Houston-based Rothko Chapel, a church that advocates for human rights. Previous recipients include Sister Diana Ortiz, the American nun who was tortured in Guatemala. At Boston College in Massachussets, Genoveva Abreu was named as the Oscar Romero Scholarship recipient. For several years running, BC has been awarding the Romero Scholarship to students who demonstrate altruistic merit by their community service or interest in human rights. At long last, an "Oscar" we can all strive to win? More: click here and here.

9. British expert to preserve Romero vestments. From now on, the vestments that Archbishop Romero was wearing on March 24, 1980, when an assassin's bullet cut him down at the altar, will no longer hang in a common clotheshanger in a glass case. Instead, the relics will be displayed in a way that exhibits the precious garments to the faithful AND preserves their integrity for generations to come. Jan Graffius, a preservation expert from Stonyhurst College in England, came down to San Salvador as part of the outreach of the newly formed Romero Trust (see also story No. 6). "Handling and examining these vestments was an emotional experience and a great responsibility," said Ms. Graffius. "If, as is expected, Monseñor Romero is beatified in the near future, the hospital will become an even more important centre of pilgrimage than it is at present." More: click here.

10. New 'martyrology' of Salvadoran Church. The Salvadoran Church published a new softcover volume (in Spanish) entitled "Testigos de la Fe en El Salvador" ("Witnesses of the Faith in El Salvador"), featuring the stories of ten priests killed in El Salvador and Archbishop Romero. The book, published extra-officially by a group of priests and distributed through all the parishes, is in part a response to John Paul II's Jubilee call to memorialize local martyrs, whether or not they have been recognized by officialdom. John Paul himself led a ceremony in the Colosseum in Rome (site of ancient persecutions) in the year 2000 in which Archbishop Romero was memorialized, together with all the "witnesses of the faith" of the 20th century. More: click here.
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