Tuesday, July 23, 2013


By now, you may have seen the images of Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro: “ecstatic believers swarmed around the closed Fiat” after “the pope's driver turned into the wrong part of a boulevard and missed lanes that had been cleared” from traffic (photo), “in scenes that at times looked alarming.” [Associated Press story.]  The Pontiff had only recently decided to circulate through downtown Rio de Janeiro to be close to the people in a decision that “exemplified the spontaneity that has already become a trademark quality of Pope Francis’ young pontificate,” said the commentators.

But this photo gallery is about another Pope, on another trip to Latin America, and another decision to veer from the playbook.  Arguably, the danger was even greater when Pope John Paul II visited El Salvador in 1983, during a full-fledged civil war in that country, and the Pontiff made the risky decision to defy the will of the host government to visit the tomb of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, whose assassination three years earlier had started the war.  “In dealing with difficultsometimes, even rough or dangeroussituations,” Cardinal Roberto Tucci recalled, “Pope Wojtyla was stubborn.”  Card. Tucci organized the late Pope’s foreign trips.  “Staying away from that tomb was one of the conditions imposed by the Government before they could agree to the visit,” the Cardinal recalled.  “The bishops advised the Pope not to go.”

So, what did Blessed John Paul do?  Here are the pictures that are well worth the thousand words.

March 6, 1983: “Shepherd One” lands at Ilopango Airport, El Salvador.  John Paul II is the first Pope to step on Salvadoran soil, even while a civil war rages on

The Popemobile tours through the war-torn and impoverished capital.

Breaking protocol and defying advice, John Paul directs his driver to take him to San Salvador’s shuttered Cathedral where Archb. Romero is buried (seen behind the Pope’s car).

Stunned onlookers and army officers stand by while clerics scurry to find the keys to the Cathedral, which was locked, and John Paul, sporting the papal galero (hat) walks toward the church doors.

John Paul walks into the San Salvador Cathedral, under construction and closed because of the war, accompanied by two archbishops of San Salvador.

Pope John Paul II arrives at, and pauses before, the grave of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, murdered in San Salvador three years before

John Paul stands before the tomb of Archbishop Romero, emblazoned with the archbishop’s motto, “Sentir con la Iglesia” (“To Be of One Heart/One Mind With the Church”).

In a dramatic moment, John Paul kneels before Archb. Romero’s grave.  According to some reports, the Pontiff uttered “Romero is ours” with his hand upon the martyred prelate’s tomb.

John Paul prays at Archb. Romero’s grave.  The Pontiff knelt on the bare floor.

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