This year’s commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980 had a distinctively international flair:
· There was an official United Nations observance, punctuated with a statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (“Monsignor Romero devoted his life to defending human rights and promoting human dignity,” the Secretary General said.)
· There was a nationally-televised address by the President of El Salvador calling on Pope Francis and the Church’s top ranking hierarchy to canonize Romero. (Archbishop Romero had been, “the greatest, the best and the wisest” Salvadoran, the President said.)
· There was a meeting between Pope Francis and 1980 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in which the Pontiff and the Nobel laureate discussed Romero. (Romero was a shepherd who heeded his people’s voices, the Nobel laureate told the Pope.)
· There were major commemorations of Romero, including masses, vigils and conferences in San Salvador, Rome, London and Notre Dame University and, for the first time, Harvard University, in the U.S.
While those highlights are impressive and exciting, this is the more so because this was not a 25th or 50th anniversary celebration but, at 33 years since Romero’s assassination, it was in many ways “just another year.” Yet, this is what the Romero anniversary has become: an international event. It was, as it is every year, the worldwide Catholic observance of the Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Missionary Martyrs, which was purposefully set on the Romero anniversary day. March 24 was also the closing day of the First International Meeting of Young Catholics for Social Justice, featuring a keynote address from Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga in Rome.
Romero’s name was “in the air” in significant and noteworthy ways. Of course, Romero continues to have resonance in the Catholic world. Some highlights:
· Cardinal Sean O’Malley, fresh from the conclave where he attracted significant buzz as a papabile, paid tribute to Romero in his Palm Sunday sermon back in Boston.
· At the other side of the country, the retiring Archbishop of Portland, John Vlazny, dedicated his farewell address to the faithful to Archbishop Romero. He prayed that his flock would “be strengthened and renewed in our commitment to embrace the full paschal mystery of suffering, dying and rising again like Archbishop Romero.”
· In San Francisco, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone celebrated a Mass and recognized Archbishop Romero’s work for justice, asking that his example of valor and love be followed.
· The Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, Msgr. Matteo Maria Zuppi, told Vatican Radio that Romero’s death helps us remember all the other martyrs; is important for the Year of Faith because Romero’s passion for the poor stemmed from his faith; and highlights the Church in Latin America at a time of a when the Church has its first Latin American pope.
· In southern Italy, Bishop Francescantonio Nolè invoked Romero’s memory and asked for prayers in his name at a Way of the Cross with Catholic youth.
· In Argentina, Bishop Carlos Tissera issued a document in which he hoped that the memory of Romero’s martyrdom, “for the people of Latin America” would inspire the faithful to continue on the path they long to be on.
· In Panama, Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa led the local commemorations.
In his own country, the dominant note in the commemorative activities for Archbishop Romero was the ubiquitous hope that the arrival of Pope Francis would usher in a faster canonization. The sentiments were expressed by the President of El Salvador, and by the Archbishop of San Salvador, among others. In one colorful side note, El Salvador’s First Lady audaciously brought up the subject when meeting Pope Francis in a receiving line after his Installation Mass. She wore a Romero pin, hoping the Pontiff would bite. He did—he told her that he hoped Romero’s canonization would happen “as soon as possible.”
As usual, Romero’s name also resonated beyond Catholic circles. For example, the Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón, the former magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional who issued an international warrant for the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet, issued a statement calling for the investigation and prosecution of Romero’s assassination in El Salvador, and for overturning that country’s amnesty law which has impeded justice with regard to the assassination (no one has ever been tried in El Salvador for the crime).
Romero supporters used to say “San Romero de América” (Saint Romero of the Americas), but that slogan may have to be modified to accommodate a Saint Romero of the world.