Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Archbishop Romero and the Popes (cont’d)

In February 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero made his last trip to Rome. Upon arriving in the Eternal City, Romero made his customary pilgrimage, first to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter’s Basilica, and then to the Tombs of St. Peter and St. Pius X (pope from 1903 to 1914), in the grottoes under the church floors. This was “the tour I have always liked to make,” Romero wrote. (His Diary, Jan. 28, 1980.) Upon the tomb of Pius, the last pope to be canonized a saint, Romero liked to “pray[] intensely, recalling all the intercessors who mean [something] to me, especially ... St. Peter and the latter popes.” (Ibid., May 9, 1979.)

Archbishop Romero lionized the sainted pontiff as “the father of our ecclesiastical province”—the Pope who created the Archdiocese of San Salvador when he promoted it from a suffragan diocese and “elevated it to the rank of Metropolitan See.” (The Easter Church, First Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero proclaimed on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1977.) “It was,” Romero recalled, “on the feast of Lourdes, February 11, 1913 that Saint Pius X created our ecclesial Diocese.” (February 10, 1980 Sermon.) For, “previously the Republic of El Salvador was composed of one Diocese and in 1913 three dioceses were created: Santa Ana, San Miguel, and the diocese of San Salvador was elevated to the status of an archdiocese.” (Ibid.)

But, it was more than institutional devotion that drew the Archbishop of San Salvador to the Pope who had created the Archdiocese of San Salvador. When Pius was canonized in 1954, Romero was a priest in the San Miguel province in eastern El Salvador, writing for the diocesan newspaper. In his weekly column, Father Romero noted Pius’ virtues: He embodied, “Poetry of perfection of the spirit and the practice of poverty,” Romero marveled. (O.A. Romero, La santidad de Pio X [The holiness of Pius X], Semanario CHAPARRASTIQUE, No.2014 Pg. 1, May 21, 1954, available here—in Spanish.) Many of the virtues Romero celebrates in Pius X in the article would later be attributed to Romero himself: that he prayed incessantly, especially before making major decisions; that he practiced devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; that he went to confession often; that he was devoted to the Virgin; and that he was humble in his interpersonal style. (Ibid.) It seems likely that Romero modeled his pastoral style, at least in part, on Pius.

The Pope was generous with those in need. When a large earthquake and tsunami struck the Sicilian city of Messina in 1908, Pius ordered the doors of the Apostolic Palace to be thrown open to refugees from the disaster. (R.J.B. BOSWORTH, The Messina Earthquake of 28 December 1908, European History Quarterly April 1981, vol. 11 no. 2, pp. 189-206.) Romero took a similar line when he was Bishop of Santiago de Maria in eastern El Salvador, prior to being appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. When he discovered that seasonal coffee harvesters were sleeping in the town’s main square, exposed to the elements, he recruited his younger brother to implement a Pius-like plan. “He went to the Episcopal Palace,” his brother recalls, “he emptied a dining hall and he told me: ‘From tomorrow on, you will bring all those people, as many of them as will fit,’ and then he asked the ladies from the church social groups to provide coffee, milk, water, gruel, rice or beans, whatever was available, to all these people who arrived exhausted from working since six in the evening.” (Gloria Silvia Orellana, “Monseñor Romero me enseñó a perdonar” [Msgr. Romero taught me to forgive], DIARIO CO LATINO, March 24, 2010.)

When Pius died, his will stated, “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” (Religion: Blessed Pius, TIME magazine, Monday, June 11, 1951.) It was Pius’ practice of poverty that most impressed Romero, as early as 1954, when he wrote the article praising Pius’ canonization. In that article, Romero recounted that, after becoming pope, Pius continued to use the same personal articles that he owned before becoming pope, that he treated the Church’s wealth as something sacred, and that he gave away all of his personal possessions down to the last cent. “He died poor, as he had lived,” Romero stated with approval. (CHAP., Op. Cit.) After Romero was martyred, a volunteer for the Archdiocesan Legal Aid Office making an inventory of Romero’s possessions noted that his personal effects were limited to his books, a short wave radio, a rocking chair, and a simple iron bed like those that were sold in San Salvador’s central market. His most valuable possession was his bishop’s ring. “He was a man who lived in poverty,” said the volunteer—a law student then, but today a magistrate on El Salvador’s Supreme Court. (Plática con Florentín Meléndez [Chat with Florentín Meléndez], EL FARO, January 15, 2007.)

Archbishop Romero’s pastoral style was inspired by—and, in various respects, similar to—the holiness of the last pope to be canonized as a saint.

NEXT: Benedict XV

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