Friday, March 29, 2013


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Pope Francis’ harshest critics on the Left look at his supposed silence during the Argentine “Dirty War” (when the Pope was a young cleric in his late 30s) and dismissively conclude that Bergoglio’s humble symbolism today is nice, but that he’s no Óscar Romero.  I disagree.  As a student and follower of Archbishop Romero, I see in Francis a definitive commitment to aligning the Church with the interests of the poor while maintaining an uncompromised fidelity to Catholic teachings on matters of sexual morality, abortion, marriage, contraception and traditional doctrine.  In short, I see a strong resemblance to Romero.
At this early stage of Francis’ papacy, the similarities in the way the two prelates come on the scene are striking—both make strong first impressions that seem to define their ministries.  In a pre-Conclave profile, the NCR’s John Allen described then-cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as “basically conservative on many issues,” and representing a compromise choice: he “appeal[s] to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church's commitment to the developing world.”  Similarly, Romero’s succession as Archbishop of San Salvador was as a compromise choice, promoted by conservative business and government interests, but seen as pious and apolitical within the Church.  As was Bergoglio, Romero was a doctrinal conservative.  Both men had vague question marks surrounding their past: in Francis’ case, critics have questioned whether he was sufficiently vocal about human rights abuses during the Argentine “Dirty War” and, in Romero’s case, some have questioned the adequacy of his reaction to military abuses in his previous diocese.

Both Romero and Francis quickly dispel those questions or render them irrelevant by their first actions upon assuming their ministries—actions that are high on symbolism, but send powerful signals about where their commitments lie.   Both Romero and Francis appear to be transformed: Romero is described as changing from “timid and conventional” to “fearless and outspoken.” Francis is said to go from “stiff and reserved on the public stage” to powerfully charismatic: “it’s almost like he’s a different person. He seems ten years younger! It’s as if he’s received a force that he didn’t have before, something almost supernatural.”  Both lead personal lives that are characterized by austerity, humility, and simplicity.  Archbishop Romero moves out of the Archbishop’s residence and moves into a small shack in a Carmelite-run cancer hospital.  As we know, Pope Francis never even moved into the Papal Apartments, preferring to stay in the Vatican guest house where cardinals stayed during the Conclave.  Both men open their ministries with gestures of modesty, and openness.  Archbishop Romero reportedly opened every conversation with clerics he met when he arrived in San Salvador, with the word: “Ayudeme” (“help me”).  Pope Francis has repeatedly asked the faithful, “Pregate per me” (“pray for me”), including during his first appearance at the loggia of St. Peter’s, when he bowed his head in silence after asking the faithful for their prayers. 
Pope Francis declined to wear the shoulder cape (the mozzetta), or even to wear the red shoes of the papacy, and Archbishop Romero would certainly have approved.  When Albino Luciani was elected John Paul I in 1978, Romero lauded the new Pope’s modesty: “the Pope does not want to have this ceremony called a coronation—this is one of his beautiful characteristics,” Romero reported.  He has broken centuries of tradition so that he can present himself humbly before the world,” he noted approvingly.  There are many tiaras in the Vatican and there are also many sedia gestatoria but the Pope has said: ‘No! I will not use these. I will enter with the people, walking as a pilgrim on this earth and so we will not call this ceremony a coronation ceremony but rather the celebration of the Mass of the Bishop of the World’.” (September 3, 1978 Homily.)  Romero’s words recall Francis’ words during his first Chrism, warning clerics not to become “collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with the odor of the sheep.”  (March 28, 2013 Chrismal Mass.)  When Karol Wojtyla ascended the throne of St. Peter as John Paul II later in 1978, Romero applauded the continuing signs of clerical simplicity: “Thanks be to God the modern Popes have renounced the tiara, the long capes and many other pompous customs that created so much vanity and evil among ecclesiastics.” (Nov. 5, 1978 Hom.)

Both Francis and Romero have a flair for the grand gesture, speaking through signs as much as through words.  When the new archbishop, Romero, held a funeral mass for his slain brother in the priesthood, Fr. Rutilio Grande, Romero wanted to show Salvadorans the gravity of losing a priest.  So, he cancelled all masses in the archdiocese, holding a “Single Mass,” in the Cathedral, which was broadcast by radio, where he could preach to the entire archdiocese about what the Church was trying to do and to attempt to unite his flock under his magisterium.   When Francis wanted to preach the world and the Church a lesson about servant leadership and humility, he moved the Holy Thursday Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica to a jail for juveniles, and instead of washing the feet of priests and deacons during the highlight of the ceremony, he washed the feet of twelve inmates in the jail, including Muslims and women.  Let us never forget,” Pope Francis said during his Inaugural Homily, “that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service.”  Romero certainly would have agreed with that: “When we speak of a hierarchical priesthood we are not speaking about a greater power but a power that is characterized by service,” Romero tells us.  (Apr. 12, 1979 Hom.)
Nowhere does Francis’ seem more like Romero at this early stage of his pontificate than in his pronouncements in favor of the poor.  He has said that he chose the name “Francis,” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, because of the beloved saint’s association with the poor and the environment.  How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!,” he declared within days of being elected. (March 16, 2013 Audience with Journalists.)  Romero is best recalled as a champion of the poor, who sought to be the voice of the voiceless: “We are never ashamed to say the Church of the poor,” he declares. (Dec. 24, 1978 Hom.)  At the same time, both men have warned against godless pity, emphasizing the need for a charity that is not merely centered on God, but is, in fact, radically centered on the salvific death and resurrection of Christ.  When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord,” Francis preached to the cardinals who elected him: “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil.”  (March 14, 2003 Papal Mass.)  Romero issues a similar warning: “Those who do not carry the Cross and want to eliminate the Cross will fall into the temptations of the devil.”  Instead, Christians should “Cling to and lovingly embrace the Cross: that is God’s plan,” Romero admonishes (Feb. 24, 1980 Hom.)

Tellingly—and, perhaps, inevitably—both Romero and Francis ruffle some feathers, inviting a furious response in some quarters.  Many of the reactions are personal and petty.  Some traditionalists have accused Pope Francis of personal vanity, saying that he has made these gestures for personal aggrandizement.  Similarly, some clerics accused Romero of defending the poor because it won him praise and flattery from progressives.  Both men have been targeted for vicious campaigns of rumor and innuendo by partisans seeking to misinterpret and sow confusion about the intended message.  Shortly after Francis’ election, “urban myths” appeared regarding alleged disrespect and rudeness by the new Pope toward established rituals and those promoting their practice.  In Romero’s case, there have been attempts to alienate Romero from the Church by exaggerating conflicts with John Paul II.  Indeed, detractors have not stopped at personal critiques, going further to question the orthodoxy of both men.  Romero’s critics went much further than Francis’ detractors have gone so far, but the fact that people are willing to go as far as to question the Pope should shed a lot of light on how Romero has been treated, and put the criticisms in perspective.

Yes, Francis is like Romero.  But not because he is some radical who will destroy the Church’s precious, cherished traditions.  Instead, Pope Francis is like Archbishop Romero because he is seeking to pull back some of the garish trimmings that conceal the full radiant majesty of the Church’s treasure.

See also:

Romero and the Popes (Spanish language index of bilingual posts in English and Spanish)
Romero and Catholicism's Mavericks (Spanish language index of bilingual posts in English and Spanish)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


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El vaticanista John Allen ha entrevistado al Arzobispo Vincenzo Paglia, postulador de la causa de canonización de Mons. Romero.  Paglia cree que el impulso hacia la beatificación de Romero puede estar tomando fuerza”, reporta Allen, “especialmente dado que un "mártir de la mafia" será beatificado en mayo”.
Según el informe publicado en el National Catholic Reporter, la entrevista con Paglia se llevó a cabo entre el 9 de febrero y el 21 de marzo—y no se sabe si la parte de la entrevista sobre Mons. Romero se dio antes o después de la elección del Papa Francisco, pero parece no tomar en cuenta algunas declaraciones a favor que se atribuyen al pontífice.  El enfoque de la entrevista es el trabajo de Paglia como Presidente del Pontificio Consejo para las Familias, que ha desempeñado desde el junio pasado.  Allen cuestiona si Paglia continuará sirviendo como el postulador de la causa de canonización de Mons. Romero, a la luz de sus nuevas responsabilidades y Paglia responde de manera inequívoca: “Sin duda, y con gran entusiasmo”.

Finalmente, Allen pregunta sobre el estado de la causa.  Creo que la beatificación del Padre Puglisi como un 'mártir de la mafia' abre algunas líneas interesantes de reflexión”, dice el arzobispo.  Esto es una aparente referencia a una posibilidad de desestancar el debate adentro de la Iglesia sobre el martirio de Mons. Romero, si existen motivos ulteriores (políticos) para su asesinato que no son estrictamente en odio de la fe.  Lo mismo se podría decir sobre el asesinato del P. Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi, un sacerdote anti-mafia en Sicilia, asesinado en 1993 por motivos que se pueden fácilmente argumentar fueron ajenos al odio de la fe (en ese caso, razones del crimen organizado), sin embargo el sacerdote está ya en agenda para ser beatificado el 25 de mayo.  Esto puede dar a entender que la Iglesia no debe ser tan estricta al interpretar la doctrina del martirio y el requisito odio de la fe.
El postulador confirma que de eso se trata cuando sigue diciendo, “Juan Pablo II dijo una vez: "Romero es de la Iglesia". Romero es un ejemplo de un pastor que dio su vida por los demás. Más allá de los problemas canónicos en términos de si su muerte fue directamente in odium fidei ["odio a la fe"], Romero sigue siendo un punto de referencia para millones y millones de personas, creyentes y no creyentes por igual”.   Esta declaración de Paglia deja entender que “los problemas canónicos en términos de si su muerte fue directamente in odium fidei” siguen siendo un tema de debate dentro del proceso de la Iglesia, así como lo indicó el entonces Prefecto de la Congregación para las Causas de los Santos, el Card. José Saraiva Martins en octubre del 2005. 

Concluye Paglia, insistiendo en la universalidad de Romero como referente: “Me conmovió, e hizo una profunda impresión en mí, cuando un presidente de los Estados Unidos, en este caso Obama, se puso delante de la tumba de Oscar Romero, hizo la seña de la cruz y se inclinó. Hizo bien, porque ese simbolismo era más poderoso que cualquier discurso”.

Monday, March 25, 2013


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The respected Romero writer, Roberto Valencia, author of the book Hablan de Monseñor Romero [Speaking of Archbishop Romero] has posted about an anonymous manuscript given to the Romero Foundation in which a self-claimed former guerrilla alleges that his old insurgency outfit carried out the Romero assassination.  Valencia concludes that, although he remains convinced that Romero was killed by the ultra-right at the direction of Roberto D’Aubuisson (the universally accepted view), the “manuscript feeds my suspicion that D’Aubuisson and his followers may not have been the only ones planning the murder of Archbishop Romero at the time.”
The manuscript in question is a two-page, hand-written note which begins, “Let’s tell the people of El Salvador and the world over the truth about who murdered Archbishop Romero.”  The note goes on to matter-of-factly describe a conversation supposedly overheard by the anonymous writer, while he was a member of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP, for its Spanish name) on Monday, March 24, 1980—the date Romero was killed.  The writer claims that at 2 p.m. that day, he was at a meeting in a San Salvador neighborhood, in which a Nicaraguan urban combat specialist called Fran[k] and his Salvadoran brother-in-arms named Willia[m] discussed the Romero assassination.  What they discussed is not made explicitly clear, but the note alleges that the ERP were the real killers of Archbishop Romero: “Members of the ERP or People's Revolutionary Army, using a commando from Nicaragua, murdered [Romero] solely and exclusively to arouse the populace so that they would take up arms, because days before his death they circulated the order that the time for taking up arms was near.”

The thought that the extreme Left would kill Romero to instigate an uprising is not implausible.  Romero himself considered as much in his diary on Monday, November 5, 1979, when he writes about receiving word of a death-threat against him, presumably from the ERP, the most radical of the various guerrilla groups at the time.  I received a letter from the [papal] Nuncio to Costa Rica, brought here by a Salesian nun, in which [the Nuncio] confidentially communicates that the Vatican Secretariat of State has begged him to warn me that they have received—from a trustworthy source—news of a threat against my life from the extreme Left,” Romero writes.  This possible threat,” he continues, “which could have some grounding in reality, seeks to create problems for the new ruling junta and sow confusion among the populace.”  Thus, the new manuscript, if it proves to be authentic, may not contain much that is new, as there was already evidence that the ERP considered assassinating Romero to ignite an uprising.
Additionally, the manuscript does not provide very much detail or verifiable background information to establish its authenticity.  With respect to the overheard conversation, the anonymous writer states that “William” asked who would be blamed for the assassination and that “Frank” responded with the name of “Roberto,” who we are to assume is a reference to Roberto D’Aubuisson, the paramilitary death squad leader from the extreme right.  The purported exchange raises multiple questionsk including: whether extreme-leftists would be referring to D’Aubuisson by first name—or whether “Roberto” is a reference to D’Aubuisson, at all (Roberto is a very popular Spanish name); whether it is feasible that the Romero assassination was hatched by “Frank” and “William” late in the afternoon of the day on which it took place; whether “Frank” and “William” acted alone; if not, who else was involved; who the shooter was; who owned the infamous red VW seen by the witnesses, etc.  In short, there are no operational details revealed in the manuscript that attribute specific responsibility to the Left or—more importantly—that clear specific individual members of the D’Aubuisson gang of such responsibility where other investigations have assigned it to them.  For example, other investigations have accounted for who drove the getaway car, who purchased the weapons, who paid the shooter, etc.  Here, we have nothing to offset that specific information with.

The anonymous note does provide a number of details that are intended to give assurance of authenticity, but they tend to either be common knowledge that does not show information only the real killers would know, or in other cases the information in the manuscript is simply to vague to verify.  For example, the manuscript states that “Frank” (the Nicaraguan urban combat expert) has a cousin nicknamed “El Chocho,” who was in command of the Salvadoran town of Perquín for a long time.  That description appears to refer to Rolando Cáceres who had that nickname, fits the description during the war as Perquín commander for the rebels, and is Nicaraguan, to boot.  But, the information is common knowledge, as Cáceres runs a famous guerrilla exhibit called the Museum of the Revolution, which attracts many tourists and visitors to Perquín.  (Though it would be interesting to ask Cáceres if he had a cousin named “Frank” who came to El Salvador to give urban combat training, and whether he ever heard “Frank” talk about killing Romero.)  Other verifying details are almost useless: the manuscript says that “Frank” died in combat in the province of Usulután, that “William” had a brother who died in combat in the town of Zacamil; and that “William” eventually fell in Usulután, also.  Given that “Frank” and “William” are likely nicknames, such vague references would be difficult to verify, and even if they were confirmed, they would simply establish that such people existed—not that they were involved in the alleged plot.
Finally, a number of prior accusations that the Left was behind Romero’s murder have turned out to be frauds—usually sponsored by the Right, which seeks to rehabilitate D’Aubuisson.  For example, in the mid-80s, there were sensational hoaxes designed to shift blame across the political spectrum, including a faked videotape confession by Adalberto Salazar, who it was later shown was behind bars at the time of the assassination, and was apparently coerced to make his video-taped confession by unnamed people in the military-police apparatus.  The tape was widely discredited.  Similarly, the anti-Romero Salvadoran cleric, Msgr. Freddy Delgado, also conjectured (without even the pretense of having any proof of it!) that Romero had been assassinated by the Left because they were angry that he was beginning to heed Vatican admonitions to distance himself from them.  Accordingly, we must take all earth-shaking revelations in this area with a healthy grain of salt.

In its ambivalent plausibility, the anonymous manuscript is a useful reminder that Romero was targeted for assassination by both the Left and the Right; and that it has only been in the subsequent years that the idea of Romero as a darling of the Left and the bane of the Right has become an idée fixe in the public imagination.
The Anonymous Manuscript.  Roberto Valencia Photo.


Traducción Super Martyrio
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Alrededor de 250 personas desafiaron condiciones tempestuosas en Londres el sábado por la mañana para asistir al servicio ecuménico de este año para conmemorar el 33º aniversario del asesinato del arzobispo Oscar Romero de El Salvador. Celebrada en la Iglesia San Martín del Campo en Trafalgar Square, la actividad fue organizada por la Archbishop Romero Trust y Pax Christi. La presentadora principal describió a Romero como “un gran santo de nuestro tiempo”.
Se trataba de Marie Dennis, co-presidenta de Pax Christi Internacional, el movimiento mundial de paz católico y Embajadora de la Paz por Pax Christi EE.UU., con amplia experiencia en el trabajo de cabilideo político en Washington sobre temas de justicia y paz. Ella es también co-autora de siete libros, entre ellos “Oscar Romero: reflexiones sobre su vida y escritos” y “Un retiro con Oscar Romero y Dorothy Day: Caminando con los pobres”.

Romero cuestionó reiteradamente la cultura de la muerte”, dijo, “aquella en que él estaba directamente inmerso, pero también sus raíces y expresiones más allá de El Salvador”. Sugirió que “a lo que Romero resistió fue a la muerte, a la muerte de niños enfermos con enfermedades curables, a la muerte de la esperanza en los jóvenes, a la muerte de los que se enfrentaban a los dioses de la muerte - a la muerte de la guerra, de la tortura, de la pobreza, del cinismo o de la desesperación”.

Romero tenía la “creencia inequívoca en la resurrección” opina ella, “y se nos invita de nuevo - desde la vida y el testimonio de este gran santo de nuestro tiempo - a hacer lo mismo”. Dennis pidió un replanteamiento de lo que entendemos por seguridad, diciendo que “la orquestación del miedo y la respuesta al miedo orquestado se han convertido en la principal ocupación de demasiada gente”.

Al principio, la congregación puso velas alrededor de un busto de Romero, quien fue asesinado por un escuadrón de la muerte derechista el 24 de marzo de 1980, mientras celebraba la misa. Ocurrió el día después que dio un sermón pidiendo a los soldados salvadoreños, como cristianos, obedecer a la orden superior de Dios y dejar de llevar a cabo la represión del gobierno y sus violaciones de los derechos humanos más básicos. De acuerdo con una audio-grabación de la misa, le dispararon mientras eleva el cáliz al final del rito eucarístico.

Se oró en el servicio del sábado por el progreso de la causa de canonización de Romero y, al concluir el servicio, el Embajador de El Salvador a Gran Bretaña, Werner Matías Romero, describió 2013 como un año “de esperanza para El Salvador, especialmente con la elección del primer Papa latinoamericano”. Informó que cuando la primera dama del país, Vanda Pignato, conversó con el Papa Francisco después de su inauguración la semana pasada y le mostró su pin que llevaba una imagen de Monseñor Romero, el Papa, “expresó su deseo de tener un proceso de canonización rápido de Monseñor Romero, como reconocimiento a su legado”.

Monseñor Romero nos enseña a ser solidarios con los pobres”, dijo Marie Dennis. Parecía totalmente apropiado entonces que alrededor de una docena de personas sin hogar, que habían dormido en San Martín del Campo durante la noche, permanecieron allí durante el servicio. De hecho, las lecturas y la música fueron acompañadas por un suave y contínuo roncar. ¡Monseñor Romero lo habría aprobado!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


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Sunday, March 24, 2013 marks the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador (pictured, as a young priest at St. Peter’s in the 1950s).  To some, he is a saint.  To others ... he is a name they may have heard thrown around, but do not know much about.  If that describes you—don’t despair.  Here is a Romero primer.
The Basics

Msgr. Óscar A. Romero (b. Aug. 15, 1917) was Archbishop of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador, in Central America, between Mexico and Panama) from 1977 to 1980.  He was assassinated by rightwing mercenaries on March 24, 1980 after being accused of supporting Marxist rebels by his preaching in defense of the poor.  His assassination unleashed a 12-year civil war.  Bd. Pope John Paul II prayed at his tomb during visits to El Salvador in 1983 and 1996, and approved the opening of Romero’s canonization cause in 1994.  The process has been pending in the Vatican since 1998.

The thesis for Romero’s canonization is that he was killed a martyr and that his assassination was an act of hatred against the Christian faith, insofar as its precepts of justice and charity are enshrined in the social doctrine of the Church.  Detractors argue that the motive for Romero’s killing was not hatred of the faith, but simply a violent reaction based on politics.  The two are not mutually exclusive, as many modern martyrs, including the victims of the Mexican Cristero wars, the martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, and the victims of Nazism/Fascism and Communism, attracted persecution that involved politics but also implicated the faith.  The Church uses experts and scholars to sift through the evidence and establish «odium fidei» (hatred of the faith), which is why these processes take so long.
Political Manipulation

Pope Benedict has said that, “the problem” in Archbishop Romero’s canonization process has been that the Left has “wrongly wished to use him as their badge, as an emblematic figure.”  This attempt to appropriate Romero complicates the Church’s attempts to canonize him.  First, the more Romero is seen as a symbol of the Left, the harder it is to say he was killed because he preached Christian justice (hatred of the faith)—and the easier it is to say he was killed because he was ‘of the Left’ (political reasons; see Martyrdom point).  Second, there is concern that if Romero was canonized in an overly politicized environment, his sainthood would not be properly understood by the faithful (the Left would celebrate in the streets and the Right would boycott the festivities).  In fairness, the first political manipulation of Romero was by the Right, when it wrongly accused him of being a partisan.  Such (false) accusations brought contempt, repudiation, and his eventual death.  After he was vilified by the Right, the Left was all too happy to embrace him and hold him up as their “badge.”
Liberation Theology

Adding to the complexity of the case, during the late 70s/early 80s, Church authorities sought to correct perceived excesses in a Latin American church movement called “Liberation Theology” which fused Christian ideas with modern socioeconomic inquiry to syncretize a radical commitment to the poor.  As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) issued corrections to Liberation Theology in 1984 and 1986, stating that the movement was valid, but warning against Marxist influence, deviation from orthodox Church teaching on the supernatural aspects of the faith, and condoning violence.  Romero was regarded as a conservative cleric most of his life, and he was never an adherent of Liberation Theology.  However, he has been generally associated with the movement after the fact—partly because he is seen to embody its commitment to the poor, and also because some of Romero’s supporters were in the movement.  Card. Ratzinger’s Congregation reviewed Romero’s sermons and writings and concluded in 2005 that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”

Shunned by the Popes?

One of the story lines often spun on Romero is that he got the cold shoulder from the Vatican, including from Pope John Paul II.  If there is a grain of truth behind this narrative, it is that John Paul received many negative assessments about Romero (from government and official sources) and he met with Romero to talk things through.  If the most outlandish versions of the story are to be believed, John Paul was testy and curt.  But that's not the way Romero tells it:  “He did not scold me as some have said but rather it was a dialogue about criteria,” he insisted, “like when Paul went up to Jerusalem to speak with Peter about the content of his preaching.”  At the end of their last meeting, John Paul embraced Romero and told him that he prayed every day for El Salvador.  The claims that the Vatican shunned Romero do not hold up: in the three years that he was archbishop, Romero had four in-person meetings with the Pope (two with Paul VI and two with John Paul).  In Pope Benedict's last year, a bishop had to wait, on average, fifteen years to meet with the Pope!
«Sentire Cum Ecclesia»

Although he was called “the firebrand of Central America” because of his strong denunciation “against the dictatorship” (the latter being Pope Benedict’s words), Óscar Romero was naturally a shy, quiet man.  For most of his clerical career, he was regarded as a staunch conservative, who was seldom seen without his cassock and was known for his prayerful, reverent spirituality and moralistic sermons.  Despite his timid nature, he also had a feisty, combative streak in matters of conscience.  In the early 1970s, he clashed with the Liberal clergy of San Salvador over what he saw as sacramental abuses and he was critical of Liberation Theology.  Even after assuming a more “prophetic” ministry of denunciation and defending the poor, Romero remained unswervingly orthodox, equating abortion to the political killings that he deplored, denouncing birth control, and insisting that sex was proper only between a man and a woman who are married.  Similarly, Romero defended his adherence and submission to the Pope, stating that his communion with Rome was the hallmark of the authenticity of his preaching.  He was pious until the end, a friend of Opus Dei, Eucharistic adoration and penitential mortification.
The Injustices Romero Denounced

Understanding the situation in El Salvador during Romero’s time is the key to appreciating various aspects of Romero’s ministry: Was he too eager to wade into political waters?  Is his example transferable to other places and times, or was it unique to his situation?  Were his actions justified?  Romero laid out his own defense in 1950 in an overlooked article in which he wrote that “the Church is the most authentic revolutionary in history.”  If rulers are just, he wrote, the Church preaches obedience and loyalty.  But, if rulers are unjust, they are not worthy of obedience and the Church must obey God.  In this case, history does not know rebellion or revolution more valiant than the Church’s resistance,” he warned, “an authentic revolution of twenty centuries filled with uncompromising chapters of blood and persecution.”  Forty years after writing those prophetic lines, Romero found himself in an environment that fit the bill.  At the time that he was killed, Amnesty International attributed 600 politically-motivated assassinations to the government of El Salvador, including 83 in a single five day period —in a country smaller than the U.S. state of New Hampshire.  Amnesty established that El Salvador violated human rights to extents not seen in other countries, exceeding even those of Pinochet’s Chile after the coup d’etat.  The BBC estimates that from 1979-81 around 30,000 Salvadorans were killed by right-wing death squads.
His “Conversion

The model of Romero’s life that has captured the popular imagination has Romero experiencing a road to Damascus conversion, à la St. Paul, following the assassination of his good friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande in 1977, which opens Romero’s eyes to the reality of injustice in El Salvador.  The model is profoundly appealing and was dramatized in the 1989 film “Romero,” which starred Raul Julia in the title role.  The impact of Grande’s death was certainly a pivotal point which set the tone for Romero’s ministry (it happened two weeks after Romero was installed as Archbishop), but the conversion model is prone to abuse.  First, Romero was always sympathetic to the poor and had been moving toward a more robust defense of their rights for at least a decade.  Second, the conversion model wrongly supposes a static reality of oppression to which Romero turns a blind eye, while disregarding evidence that Romero’s reactions evolved to suit changing circumstances.  Finally, the conversion model is sometimes used to ideologically suggest that all clerics who are not vocal in denunciation are bad shepherds, regardless of circumstance (see previous point).
Romero Lives

Happily, the “Romero lives” slogan is not confined to political posters and rallies of the Left.  The March 24 anniversary of his death is marked on the Church calendar as the Day for Fasting and Prayer for Missionary Martyrs.  The Church of England recognizes March 24 as Óscar Romero’s feast day, and the United Nations observes March 24 as International Day of the Right to Truth.  The anniversary has been commemorated with memorial masses in Rome every year since 1984 (notable celebrants have included Cardinals Eduardo Pironio and Roger Etchegaray, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem); in San Salvador every year since 1986 (could not be done earlier because of the Civil War) and in London since 2007 (homilists have included the Archbishop of Canterbury and Card. Peter Turkson).  An annual conference now called “Romero Days” has been held at Notre Dame University since 1988 (past speakers include Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez).  Popular tributes include artistic works, such as the 1989 movie “Romero,” and a recent tribute by the Christian music group, The Project, found here.
His Message

It might be best to leave you with Óscar Romero in his own words.  We have never preached violence,” Romero said in a November 1977 sermon, “except the violence of Love which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence [i.e. force] of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”

Resources Online:

The Romero Trust (UK, English texts of Romero’s homilies, pastoral letters and more)
Index of the Super Martyrio Blog (updates on the beatification cause, essays & more)
Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints

Tim’s El Salvador Blog (all about Romero’s country)


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Los últimos siete sermones de Mons. Romero comienzan desde su exegesis sobre la pobreza de las bienaventuranzas, siguen el camino de Jesús a Jerusalén tras los primeros cinco domingos de Cuaresma—desde las tentaciones de Jesús en el desierto, la Transfiguración, la higuera estéril, el hijo pródigo, y la adúltera arrepentida—y terminan con la humilde homilía del 24 de marzo por el aniversario de una madre difunta, cuya vida nos ayuda a ver la bondad de la vida cristiana que todos estamos llamados a vivir (español | inglés | audio).  Pero detrás de estos sietes sermones de amor y de fe que Mons. Romero predica, también se viene escuchando una contranota que se opone a todo lo que él plantea, sembrando el odio y los signos de la muerte en contra de su palabra dignificante y salvadora.


Contra la luz de los siete sermones de la fe de Mons. Romero, la voz de diatriba arroja sus sombras sobre el escenario.  Dos días después de la homilía sobre las bienaventuranzas, una bomba destruye la antena de radio que trasmite las misas de Mons. Romero, en un claro atentado de callar su voz.  El día antes de su homilía sobre la tentación del demonio, Mons. Romero recibe una amenaza anónima indicándole que su nombre está en la lista de personas que deberán morir.  La próxima semana, Mons. Romero hace su último retiro espiritual y se dispone a aceptar su suerte, como Dios disponga.  El día de su homilía sobre la higuera estéril, 72 candelas de dinamita son colocadas debajo del púlpito donde predicó—pero no estallan (si hubieran explotado, hubieran destruido la cuadra entera).  Dos días después, una bomba explota en la cooperativa sacerdotal.  En fin, cuando Mons. Romero predicaba estas siete homilías, tenía la plena consciencia que el ángel de la muerte tiraba su sombra sobre él.  Pero había encontrado la serenidad de San Francisco de Asís: “El día de nuestra muerte no hay que temerlo. Hay que esperarlo, como lo esperaba Francisco de Asís; la muerte, «mi hermana muerte», la gran liberadora—si se ha vivido como Francisco de Asís, si se ha vivido con sentido de escatología, esperando el día de la liberación, esperando el retorno de la Babilonia, esperando la liberación de Egipto, esperando la redención eterna de aquel Cristo resucitado que no puede morir” (Homilía del 13 de noviembre de 1977).

La lectura para aquella misa de aniversario de la muerte de Doña Sara Meardi de Pinto era Juan 12:23-26: «Ha llegado la hora de que el Hijo del hombre sea glorificado.  En verdad os digo que si el grano de trigo no cae en tierra y muere, se queda solo. Pero si muere, produce mucho fruto. El que se apega a su vida la pierde; en cambio, el que aborrece su vida en este mundo, la conserva para la vida eterna».  Este 24 de marzo de 1980, el Evangelio se podría aplicar con mayor relevancia a Mons. Romero.  Acaban de escuchar en el evangelio de Cristo que es necesario no amarse tanto a sí mismo”, dice el arzobispo que está a punto de ser sacrificado, “que se cuide uno para no meterse en los riesgos de la vida que la historia nos exige, y, el que quiera apartar de sí el peligro, perderá su vida”.  Una nota en el periódico había anunciado su participación en aquella misa, y otro sacerdote había ofrecido tomar el lugar de Mons. Romero para evitar el peligro, pero Mons. Romero había insistido en no abandonar su puesto en la hora negra.  En cambio, al que se entrega por amor a Cristo al servicio de los demás, éste vivirá como el granito de trigo que muere, pero [solo] aparentemente muere. Si no muriera se quedaría solo. Si la cosecha es, porque muere, se deja inmolar esa tierra, deshacerse y sólo deshaciéndose, produce la cosecha”, profundizó.

Para echar más luz sobre este mensaje, Mons. Romero lee integralmente del capítulo 39 de la constitución de la Iglesia «Gaudium et Spes», que explica la relación entre la expectativa escatológica de la Iglesia y su visión social: «Ignoramos el tiempo en que se hará la consumación de la tierra y de la humanidad ... pero Dios nos enseña que nos prepara una nueva morada y una nueva tierra donde habita la justicia, y cuya bienaventuranza es capaz de saciar y rebasar todos los anhelos de paz que surgen en el corazón humano ... No obstante, la espera de una tierra nueva no debe amortiguar, sino más bien aliviar, la preocupación de perfeccionar esta tierra, donde crece el cuerpo de la nueva familia humana … todos los frutos excelentes de la naturaleza y de nuestro esfuerzo, después de haberlos propagado por la tierra en el Espíritu del Señor y de acuerdo con su mandato, volveremos a encontrarlos limpios de toda mancha, iluminados y trasfigurados, cuando Cristo entregue al Padre el reino eterno y universal».  Esto resume todo lo que Mons. Romero ha tratado de predicar: que el designio de justicia en esta tierra debe ser una antesala para el reino de los cielos, y que la esperanza de ese mundo futuro debe ser un impulso para tratar de construir una sociedad que ya anticipa esa perfección.

Esta es la esperanza que nos alienta a los cristianos”, dice monseñor.  Sabemos que todo esfuerzo por mejorar una sociedad, sobre todo cuando está tan metida esa injusticia y el pecado, es un esfuerzo que Dios bendice, que Dios quiere, que Dios nos exige”.  Advierte que es necesario pero no suficiente aspirar por una sociedad sana y justa, ya que al trabajar por esos ideales, “hay que tratar de purificarlos en el cristianismo, eso sí, vestirlos de esta esperanza del más allá; porque se hacen más fuertes, porque tenemos la seguridad que todo esto que plantamos en la tierra, si lo alimentamos en una esperanza cristiana, nunca fracasaremos, lo encontraremos purificado en ese reino, donde precisamente, el mérito está en lo que hayamos trabajado en esta tierra”.  Este es el principio de la trascendencia, en que Mons. Romero insistió verdaderamente hasta el final: no predicaba una utopía política, un progreso meramente económico y social, sino que una promoción integral de la persona inspirada desde la salvación anunciada por Cristo y encaminada hacia la promesa de la Resurrección.

Tampoco estaba invitando a todos los cristianos a incorporarse a una insurrección: el ejemplo que pone es el de la difunta, una madre que solamente había apoyado a su familia, a sus hijos.  Esta santa mujer que estamos recordando hoy, pues, no pudo hacer cosas tal vez directamente, pero animando a aquellos que pueden trabajar, comprendiendo su lucha, y sobre todo, orando y aún después de su muerte diciendo con su mensaje de eternidad que vale la pena trabajar porque todos esos anhelos de justicia, de paz y de bien que tenemos ya en esta tierra,” dice monseñor.  Regresa al tema de las lecturas del Evangelio y del Concilio: “sabemos que nadie puede para siempre y que aquellos que han puesto en su trabajo un sentimiento de fe muy grande, de amor a Dios, de esperanza entre los hombres, pues todo esto está redundando ahora, en esplendores de una corona que ha de ser la recompensa de todos los que trabajan así, regando verdades, justicia, amor, bondades en la tierra y no se queda aquí, sino que purificado por el espíritu de Dios, se nos recoge y se nos da en recompensa”.

Concluye, resumiendo su mensaje y su vida: “Esta Santa Misa, pues, esta Eucaristía, es precisamente un acto de fe: Con fe cristiana sabemos que en este momento la Hostia de trigo se convierte en el cuerpo del Señor que se ofreció por la redención del mundo y que en ese cáliz el vino se transforma en la sangre que fue precio de la salvación. Que este cuerpo inmolado y esta Sangre Sacrificada por los hombres nos alimente también para dar nuestro cuerpo y nuestra sangre al sufrimiento y al dolor, como Cristo, no para sí, sino para dar cosechas de justicia y de paz a nuestro pueblo. Unámonos pues, íntimamente en fe y esperanza a este momento de oración por Doña Sarita y por nosotros”.  En ese instante estalló el disparo que quiso dar la última palabra a la voz de diatriba, del odio, y de la muerte.  En vez de eso, dio lugar a un martirio brillante y luminoso que sigue dando luz al mundo.
«Septem Sermones Fidei», los ultimos siete sermones de Mons. Romero

Friday, March 15, 2013


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An article in El Salvador’s La Prensa Gráfica newspaper quotes Pope Francis as saying in 2007—two years after he finished second in the conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger, “If I had been pope, the very first thing I would have done is order the beatification of Monsignor Romero.” According to the article, then Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio made the comments to Msgr. Jesús Delgado of the Romero Foundation, who spoke to the Jesuit cardinal again in 2010, confirming what he had said three years earlier: “I remember it, the problem is that I will never get to be pope.”

A subsequent story in La Prensa Gráfica reports that the Salvadoran First Lady, Vanda Pignato, recently received further assurances from Pope Francis on the Romero beatification process. Pignato greeted the Pontiff after his installation Mass on March 19. Pignato was wearing a Romero pin when she went up to the Pope in the receiving line and, “He told me that he hoped the canonization of Archbishop Romero would be as soon as possible. I showed him my Archbishop Romero picture, my pin, and I told him that I hoped it would be during his papacy, during his pontificate. He smiled at me and I took both his hands and asked him that it would be so.”

The 2007 account is being repeated by the Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. José Luis Escobar, and his Auxiliary Bishop, Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the article states. (Msgr. Rosa reportedly told a Church magazine,, that, “I know Bergoglio personally and I know he is absolutely convinced that Romero is a saint and a martyr. Everything points to his beatification being in the cards, although we follow God’s time frame which is not the same as ours.”) The news story containing the statements have been uploaded in the Facebook account of the Archdiocese. According to the article:

On three occasions, Monsignor Jesus Delgado was able to approach and even talk with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the newly elected Pope. The first time was in 2007, during the meeting of bishops held in Aparecida, Brazil.

At that meeting, Delgado took it upon himself to interview various cardinals on their views of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was killed during the armed conflict in the country, on March 24, 1980, while officiating Mass - and if they thought he could be beatified. Delgado talked with eight cardinals and he recalls with singular satisfaction one particular response. “If I had been pope, the very first thing I would have done is order the beatification of Monsignor Romero,” was the answer of Cardinal Bergoglio, the new successor of Peter.

He recalls feeling a deep sense of empathy at the time and even thinking, “Lord, why don’t you make this man Pope?” Not surprisingly, the response of the now Pope has certainly generated greater expectations in Msgr. Delgado regarding the advancement of Romero’s canonization cause, as well as in other bishops such as Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who has already mentioned the story, and the Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar, who asked the Catholic faithful to pray a lot for the process.

According to Delgado, the second time he talked with Bergoglio was 2010, in his Buenos Aires office. He recalls that there were two chairs in the place, one worthy of a cardinal and the other plain wood. A new surprise: the Cardinal chose to sit in the wooden chair. A gesture of humility and making the other feel at home, according to Delgado.

At that meeting, the Salvadoran priest reminded the Argentine cardinal of what he had said of Romero, and he replied: “I remember it, the problem is that I will never get to be pope; I am too old for that.”


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Una nota en La Prensa Gráfica de El Salvador cita al Papa Francisco diciendo en el 2007—dos años después de haber quedado en segundo lugar en el conclave que eligió a Joseph Ratzinger—que “Si yo hubiera sido papa, la primerísima cosa que habría hecho es ordenar la beatificación de Monseñor Romero”.  Según la nota, el comentario se lo hizo el entonces Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio a Mons. Jesús Delgado, de la Fundación Romero, quien volvió a platicar con el cardenal jesuita en el 2010, quien afirmó lo dicho tres años antes: “No lo olvido, el problema es que yo nunca llegaré a ser papa”.

Una nota posterior en La Prensa Gráfica informa que la Primera Dama salvadoreña, Vanda Pignato, recibió recientemente un nuevo aliento del Papa Francisco sobre el proceso de beatificación de Mons. Romero. Pignato saludó al Papa después de su misa de instalación el 19 de marzo. Pignato llevaba un pin de Romero al acercarse al Papa en la línea de recepción y, “Él me dijo que esperaba que la canonización de Monseñor Romero fuera lo más pronto posible. Le mostré mi foto, mi pin de Monseñor Romero, y le dije que ojalá fuera durante su papado, durante su pontificado. Él me dio una sonrisa y le agarré las dos manos y le pedí que así fuera”.

El relato del 2007 está siendo repetido por el Arzobispo de San Salvador, Mons. José Luis Escobar, y por su obispo auxiliar, Mons. Gregorio Rosa Chávez, según la nota.  (Mons. Rosa le dijo a, una revista de la Iglesia, que “Conozco personalmente a Bergoglio y sé que está absolutamente convencido de que Romero es un santo y un mártir. Todo parece indicar que los astros se están alineando para esta beatificación. Aunque sigamos los tiempos de Dios, que no son como los nuestros”.)  La nota de prensa que contiene las declaraciones ha sido subido en la cuenta de FaceBook del arzobispado.  Según la nota:

En tres ocasiones, monseñor Jesús Delgado pudo conocer de cerca, e incluso conversar, con el cardenal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, recién electo sumo pontífice. La primera vez ocurrió en 2007, en ocasión del encuentro de obispos realizado en Aparecida, Brasil.

En esa reunión, Delgado se dio a la tarea de interrogar a algunos cardenales acerca de qué pensaban de Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero —arzobispo de San Salvador que fue asesinado durante el conflicto armado del país, el 24 de marzo de 1980, cuando oficiaba una misa— y si creían que pudiera ser beatificado. Monseñor platicó con ocho purpurados y habla, con satisfacción y esperanza, de solo una respuesta. “Si yo hubiera sido papa, la primerísima cosa que habría hecho es ordenar la beatificación de Monseñor Romero”, fue la respuesta del cardenal Bergoglio, el nuevo sucesor de Pedro.

Recuerda que en ese momento sintió una empatía profunda y hasta pensó: “Señor, ¿por qué no haces papa a este señor?”. Por eso, la respuesta del ahora pontífice, sin duda, ha generado más expectativas en monseñor Delgado sobre el avance de la causa de canonización de Romero, pero también en otros obispos como monseñor Gregorio Rosa Chávez, que ya ha hecho mención a esta anécdota, y el arzobispo de San Salvador, José Luis Escobar, quien pidió orar mucho a la feligresía católica por este proceso.

De acuerdo con Delgado, la segunda ocasión en que platicó con Bergoglio fue 2010, en la oficina de este en Buenos Aires, Argentina. Recuerda que en el lugar había dos sillas, una digna de un cardenal y otra de madera. Una nueva sorpresa: el cardenal escogió sentarse en la silla de madera. Un gesto de humildad y de hacer sentir bien al otro, según monseñor.

En ese encuentro, el sacerdote salvadoreño recordó al cardenal argentino lo que había dicho de Romero, quien respondió: “No lo olvido, el problema es que yo nunca llegaré a ser papa, ya estoy demasiado viejo para eso”.

El Salvador estará conmemorando el 33 aniversario del asesinato de Mons. Romero este sábado 16 de marzo, ya que la propia fecha, el 24 de marzo, coincide con la fiesta litúrgica de la Iglesia por el Domingo de Ramos.

Ver también:

Nota al Papa Francisco: Agilizar la Beatificación de Óscar Romero