Tuesday, November 09, 2010

ROMERO’S ‘HOSPITALITO

Few places in all of El Salvador are a greater testament to Óscar Romero than the Divine Providence Hospital, known affectionately to Salvadorans as “el Hospitalito” (‘the Little Hospital’). Hospitalito has become “the most venerated site” for pilgrims coming to El Salvador to honor El Salvador’s martyrs. (James Hodge, Sacred Sites: Spiritual pilgrims flock to the places in El Salvador where modern-day martyrs were slain, THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, December 26, 2001.) It was here that Archbishop Romero was martyred, saying Mass in the hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, and it was here that he lived, in a humble shack across the driveway from the chapel, during the time he was Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero’s living quarters now are a museum, where visitors can get an intimate sense of the everyday life of this martyr and saint. “His rooms contain many personal possessions, such as clothing, books, official and unofficial papers, photographs and most importantly, the vestments and clothes he was wearing when he was shot.” (Stonyhurst Curator visits San Salvador to help conserve martyr's relics, Stonyhurst College Website, October 2007.)

Archbishop Romero lived on the grounds of Hospitalito from the start of his archbishopric, and he started to live in the small shack seen today since his 60th birthday, August 15, 1977, when he ordered the Archbishop’s Palace to be turned into a cafeteria for priests. The hospital had been instituted for the care of impoverished cancer patients who would otherwise be left on the street. (Divine Providence Web Site.) It has a capacity for 120 patients. Romero maintained a friendship with the hospital from its foundation in 1966, when he was a priest in San Miguel. From time to time, he would come say Mass for the patients and the nuns who ran the hospital. When he was ordained a bishop in 1970, he arranged for the collection from his ordination mass to be donated to the Hospitalito. When he was Bishop of Santiago de Maria (1974-1977), he began to be lodged at Hospitalito whenever he visited the capital. At this time, he assumed the role of chaplain to the nuns, and he visited them to dine and pray with them. (John A. Donaghy, Romero’s Legacy in Context, unpublished paper, abstract available at AAR Abstracts, November 19-22, 2005.)

Romero himself christened the Chapel at the hospital. “On July, 16 1974, in a solemn ceremony,” Sister Luz Isabel Cueva recalled, “Monsignor Romero consecrated the Expiatory Temple of the Divine Providence Hospital with oil -- and on March 24, 1980, he consecrated that same temple ... with his own blood, which he offered to God to defend his people, whom he loved so much.” (Las hermanas del Hospitalito recuerdan a Monseñor [The Sisters of Hospitalito Remember Monseñor], Carta a las Iglesias, Year XX, Nº.443-444, February 1-29, 2000.) After Romero was appointed archbishop, the nuns had the small house built for him so that he could be more comfortable there. They gave him the keys as a birthday present for his 60th birthday, with all the staff and patients looking on. They turned down his intentions to pay them, but from time to time he gave them money. When he won a peace prize in 1980, he gave the entire award of $10,000 to the nuns for the hospital, that they used to start an orphanage for the children of the cancer patients. (Josué Parada, El último legado de Monseñor Romero [Archbishop Romero’s final legacy], DIARIO CO-LATINO, March 24, 2010.)

While he lived there, Romero regularly observed a “Holy Hour” in the Hospital Chapel, “which he did with a lot of fervor, eloquence and profundity,” according to Sister Luz Isabel Cueva, who was the Superior of the nuns. “He had the gift of the Word,” said Sister Luz Isabel, “that is why many people would come to hear him with joy.” (Cartas, supra.) Sister Luz Isabel recalled that, after or before the Holy Hour, Romero would go visit the patients and he would say to them, “You are the Suffering Christ and your bed is the Cross.” (Id.) Among the few guests whom Archbishop Romero entertained at Hospitalito was Cardinal Aloíso Lorscheider of Brazil, who turned down lodging with a wealthy Catholic patron to stay with Romero.

After his martyrdom, the nuns hoped that Archbishop Romero would be buried in the hospital grounds, but it was decided that he belonged to the entire nation and that it would be better to inter him in the Metropolitan Cathedral. A plaque near the spot where he was felled reads, “Archbishop Romero sacrificed his life to God for his people at this Altar.” In 1996, the miraculous testimonies left on his Cathedral grave by the faithful were set on a wall of Archbishop Romero’s shack as testimonies to his sainthood. Among the thousands of visitors to Hospitalito, there have been cardinals and statesmen and other luminaries, including Pres. Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Mother Teresa. The Hospital and its Chapel have become monuments to Romero’s solidarity with the poor, which he expressed by choosing such a modest residence; of his martyrdom, because he died there; and of his intense spirituality, which he practiced there.
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