Our traditional end-of-year round-up of Romero stories for the past 12 months reveals that, while Archbishop Romero slept the sleep of the just in his canonization cause this year, he remained “wildly popular” in the words of a Newsweek report. 2012 may be recalled as, «The Year of the Monument.» The year was notable for some unexpected Romero tributes, memorials and monuments that will cause his legacy and legend to grow.The tributes we consider below go beyond the now traditional commemorations of Romero held every year, including around the date of his martyrdom. The March tributes now include those organized by the Romero Trust in London. “This year,” the Trust reported, “there was a record number of special liturgies, masses, talks, film showings, workshops and cultural events held in Scotland, Wales and England.” Here in America, Notre Dame University held its annual Romero Days (see item no. 4, below). There were many other celebrations, too numerous to recount, but the March 24 Mass in San Francisco’s Cathedral for those affected by violence, was typical of the events. And the celebrations in El Salvador both in March, and for Romero’s birthday in August, also continued to grow.
1. Monuments by the Salvadoran government. Unthinkable just five years ago, the center-left Salvadoran government of Mauricio Funes (pictured, driving along the new road with Archbishop Romero's brother, Gaspar) pushed his attempts to rebrand Romero in El Salvador, naming a new major traffic artery in San Salvador in his honor, and marketing a Romero City Tour that will take visitors to Romero sites in and around the Salvadoran capital city where Romero lived. The “Msgr. Romero Boulevard” was the highest profile construction project in El Salvador in the last decade and is the largest structure named after Archbishop Romero, anywhere in the world. The Romero City Tours have been promoted by the government in Italy and London to project a new image overseas.
2. Monuments by the Salvadoran Diaspora and others outside El Salvador. In California, the U.S. state with the largest Salvadoran population, the approval of a “Plaza Romero” by the L.A. City Council marked an important milestone for the local Salvadoran community’s growing clout and was an example of Salvadorans looking beyond their ideological differences to rally around Romero as a unifying figure. Another noteworthy tribute was the bust dedicated by the government of Panama. The unveiling was attended by the Salvadoran Foreign Minister and the Archbishop of Panama.
3. Romero’s statue in San Salvador. In his home country, Romero continued to slowly overcome the entrenched, cultural hostility of the far right. This was dramatized clearly when activists associated with the right vandalized Romero’s statute during protests related to a constitutional crisis in El Salvador. In the face of broad indignation among the general population for the damage, the rightwing Mayor of San Salvador, who aspires for the presidency in the next election, offered to have his city pay for the repairs and appeared in front of the statue to inspect the progress of the work.
4. Romero tributes in mass media. In the digital age, tributes can take varied shapes and forms. In April, the release of Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero on DVD won praise for combining archival film and voice recordings to let Romero speak again: “Thirty-two years after his assassination, one would presume that there was no footage and that no such film would ever appear,” wrote John Dear, “But here he is, gentle and humble -- and larger than life.” The documentary was featured at Notre Dame’s annual “Romero Days” conference. In November, The Project released their album, Martyrs Prayers, with a powerful anthem called “Romero” that we expect we will hear more about in the coming year.
5. Romero crops up in U.S. presidential campaign. During the often contentious presidential race, a story made the rounds questioning the Republican candidate’s possible connections to investors associated with Salvadoran death squads and to the Romero assassination. But there was never any evidence of direct involvement in death squads by the investors or that Gov. Mitt Romney knew very much about their activities in El Salvador. The story never broke through as a major campaign issue.
6. Romero absent from papal Latin American jaunt. Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico and Cuba in March and he was on the Latin American soil on March 24—the first time a Pontiff had been on the Continent during the anniversary. However, unlike the Pope’s 2007 trip to Brazil, when a reporter’squestion prompted an impromptu commentary by Benedict on the canonization cause, this time there was no mention of Romero at all.
7. Romero canonization cause at a standstill. Analysis in the press, including in this blog, concluded that forward movement in Archbishop Romero’s beatification had ground to a halt—perhaps because of the complexity of the studies needed, perhaps because of the heavy workload at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and staffing issues at the CCS, perhaps because of lack of interest at the top, perhaps all of the above. There is much reason to think any setback will be temporary, chief among all the reasons being the fact that a “Saint Romero” would be such a great asset to a Church sometimes desperately in need of one.
8. New Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The new doctrinal watchdog for the Pope wrote only last year that, “Archbishop Romero is truly the voice of those without a voice, and thus an advocate of the poor and an example to every bishop as a defender and father of the ‘poor, homeless and neediest of all’,” as every bishop is called to be during his ordination. Msgr. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a German, is close to both Pope Benedict XVI (Müller edited a recently published collection of Benedict’s writings) and to Gustavo Gutiérrez, the so-called Father of Liberation Theology. The CDF is the Vatican agency currently reviewing Archbishop Romero’s beatification file.
9. Postulator of Romero’s canonization on the rise. The Church official responsible for promoting Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause was made an Archbishop in August, was appointed to head the Vatican equivalent of a cabinet-level agency, and is “on track to become a cardinal at an upcoming consistory,” according to a noted Vaticanista. Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia is president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, a key position given the Pope’s emphasis on resisting attempts to redefine marriage laws, among other things. We only question whether Archbishop Paglia’s ever-expanding task list will leave him with time or energy to devote to Romero’s cause (see item no. 7).
10. The role of the Salvadoran Church in the post-Romero era. Gustavo Gutiérrez said that, “The history of the Church in Latin America will be divided into before and after Monsignor Romero.” Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in El Salvador, where the church made news this year in ways that had not been seen since the war—though, not always in good ways. At the turn of the year, Archbishop Escobar Alas attracted universal reprobation for ordering the destruction of a major artwork adorning the Cathedral without regard for the cultural value of the work. Throughout his ministry, Escobar has held a much higher profile than his two predecessors, frequently commenting on social and political issues. In February, the military chaplain Bishop Fabio Colindres, helped negotiate a gang truce that led to a substantial drop in homicides. The higher profile may signal a new awakening for the Salvadoran Church, after a prolonged quietude in Romero’s wake.Finally, in this blog, we featured two special projects, in addition to the beatification watch stories we report from time to time, and the beatification prospects report at the beginning of the year. In addition to those, our approximately 60 postings included a special series comparing Archbishop Romero to other outstanding Catholic of recent times, in order to show where he figures in the Catholic world. We also updated our study of his seven last sermons with a special focus on Romero’s often overlooked criticisms of the left contained in the homilies he preached in the last 40 days of his life (his «Quaressima of Love»).
2006 Round-up (Spanish)
Top 10 of 2007
Top 10 of 2008
Top 10 of 2010
Top 10 of 2011