|All rights reserved Southwark Archdiocese Flickr account.|
A Victorian cathedral associated with English Catholics’ march from repression to tolerance, bombed by Hitler during WWII and visited by John Paul II in 1982, now houses an Oscar A. “Romero Space” that Salvadoran Ambassador Werner Matías Romero (no relation) called “a little piece of El Salvador” in the heart of London. Ambassadors and High Commissioners, members of Parliament and other government officials joined clerics from the Catholic and Anglican communities at St. George's Cathedral, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark (whose jurisdiction covers parts of London and points south) Peter Smith; the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hallam (Province of Liverpool) John Rawsthorne; and the Anglican Dean of Westminster, John Robert Hall, who heads the chapter at Westminster Abbey, where a prominent statue of Oscar Romero has graced the Royal Church’s western façade since 1998. The assembly gathered for an ecumenical prayer service to inaugurate a small chapel dedicated to Romero and to bless a large “Romero Cross,” in the style pioneered by the Salvadoran muralist Fernando Llort, created by the Salvadoran master in the highlands of El Salvador and shipped to London to house an original clerical skullcap worn by Romero and a fragment of the blood-stained alb Romero was wearing when he was killed.
Among the more than 1200 in attendance at the vigil on Thursday September 19, were Llort; Romero’s younger brother, Gaspar Romero; and Romero’s vicar, Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, who is the long serving president of the Romero Foundation in El Salvador and who turned 88 earlier in the week. Msgr. Urioste was the featured speaker of the evening, and he delivered brief but poignant remarks presenting Romero as a man of God, a man of the Church, and a man of the people. His words were peppered with anecdotes about Romero from a close associate. Recalling Romero’s spirituality, Urioste recounted accompanying Romero on a trip to Rome while he was Archbishop. “We went together to St. Peter's Basilica,” Urioste recalled. “He knelt down before the altar and I knelt next to him. After a long while, I stood up.” Urioste noticed that Romero “was still in deep prayer and I said to myself, ‘One must follow this man because he is following God’.” Explaining that Romero’s concept of the Church included the laity, he recalled Romero approaching a homeless man after a meeting with theologians. “I thought he was going to offer him some help,” said Urioste. “Instead, he asked this man the same question he had asked the theologians.” Urioste quoted Romero’s journals from his last spiritual retreat, where he writes about his fear of being assassinated, but ultimately accepts a potentially violent death and prays for strength in facing it. Urioste calls these “some of the most beautiful words he ever wrote.”
Msgr. Urioste rejects the sudden conversion model of Romero’s life, instead comparing the opening of Romero’s eyes to the Biblical story of the Blind Man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), who is gradually given full sight in a healing miracle performed by Jesus. Romero “was always someone who sought to do God´s will and God showed His will to him step by step,” said Urioste. He closed with a heartfelt wish for Romero’s sainthood:
In the course of history, three bishops have been murdered in the temple. The first was the Bishop of Krakow, Stanislaus. He was murdered for scolding the Polish king for his sins, that is, for defending morality. The second was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was murdered for defending the Church´s rights and freedoms. And the third was Archbishop Romero of San Salvador, who sought to be faithful to the Gospel and to the teaching of the Church. He was murdered for defending the poor.
The first two have been canonized. Perhaps one day, God willing, Monseñor Oscar Romero will be canonized, too.
In the symbolic highlight of the evening, the ecumenical assembly, including canons wearing ermine trimmed mozzettas, lit Paschal candles and circled the large, colorful cross in the vaulted chapel of the Romanesque gothic cathedral. Dignitaries included Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ, former British Provincial; Julian Filochowski, the head of the Romero Trust; Canon John O’Toole, the Dean of the Cathedral; Jan Graffius, the Curator from Stonyhurst College who restored Romero’s vestments for preservation in San Salvador; Rev. Richard Carter, from St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, where Romero commemorations are held; Sister Elizabeth Dawson, of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Clare Dixon, CAFOD programme manager for Latin America; Fr. Tony Lester O.Carm, of the British Province of Carmelite Friars; Sister Pamela Hussey SHCJ; Fr. Mark Hackeson; and Chris Bain.
Archbishop Smith sprinkled holy water and swung an incense censer as he circled the Cross during the blessing ceremony. As he did so, the words of Ambassador Matías Romero seemed to frame the scene. Referring to Archbishop Romero, the ambassador said, “He held us to a higher standard.” After the ceremony, members of the public filed past the Cross, admiring it, snapping pictures. “Now on his way to sainthood, the likeness of the Voice of the Voiceless stands today in stone above the entrance to Westminster Abbey, and his image remains etched in our minds, his example undimmed.”
Top: Msgr. Urioste delivers personal remarks. Bottom: artist Fernando Llort (center) lights a candle with Julian Filochowski (with his back to camera), while Gaspar Romero stands behind Llort, left, and Canon John O'Toole off to the right.