Thursday, May 28, 2015

Beatification and Evangelization

Duane and Carlos.

By Duane WH Arnold, PhD, “The Project”: 

It was a remarkable weekend! While our good friend, Carlos X., was on the ground in San Salvador reporting on the Beatification of Oscar Romero, we were here in Indiana, viewing proceedings “from a distance”, watching the on-line live feed of the ceremony and the Mass, texting Carlos, working with social media and electronically corresponding with devotees of Oscar Romero from, literally, around the globe.  The rapid pace of communication on the day itself, made it almost impossible to engage in real reflection as to the significance of the day and the event. The distance of just a few days, however, may allow for a perspective that goes beyond the joy of the beatification itself, and allows us to put all that we have seen and heard into perspective. 

First and foremost... it has been done.  The beloved Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, martyred in odium fidei, has been beatified.  It has been a long and complicated journey over the course of thirty-five years, but now it is done. It has fulfilled the dreams and desires of literally millions around the globe.  It has put to rest, at least in an official ecclesial manner, the argument that the killing of Romero was merely a matter of Salvadoran politics.  It has brought Romero and his legacy into the heart of the Church, strangely and almost prophetically, fulfilling the Archbishops motto, Sentir con la Iglesia - “Feeling With the Church”.  Now, as he takes his place in the heart of the Church, as a martyr and truly “blessed”, the motto may be reversed as we are invited to Sentir con Romero - “Feeling With Romero”.  Archbishop Paglia, Postulator of the Cause of Romero, is fond of quoting St. John Paul II - “he is our martyr”  - that is, Romero’s death and example of faith may only be understood within the context of the Church.  The events of this last weekend made this sentiment a fact, no longer open to disputation or contradiction. 

I believe it is important, however, to view the beatification in a global and realistic manner.  Romero was beatified in his beloved El Salvador - a country still recovering from the politics and divisions of its long civil war, riven by gang violence and social inequality.  It is a country with a burgeoning evangelical, free church population at odds with the Roman Catholic hierarchy in San Salvador.  This description could also be applied to several other nations in Central and South America.  While many in the region may be proud of Romero as a Salvadoran and respect his memory as a man of faith and justice, there is a palpable “disconnect” from the reality of the man himself as a “son of the Church”.  This view, however, echoes that of many in the United States, Western Europe and Africa where the “image” of Romero is revered in terms of social justice and heroic opposition to oppression, but is divorced from the context of the Church - a scenario which, I believe, Romero himself would have found puzzling.   

With this “realistic” view of the beatification, it may instructive to view what did and did not happen here in the United States.  Numerous dioceses and archdioceses held well publicized Masses of Thanksgiving, often taking place in their respective cathedrals, with large congregations in attendance.  Others offered only Spanish language services of thanksgiving, while still other dioceses and archdioceses were strangely quiet or what one might call “somewhat low key” in their celebrations.  In observing this, we are left with questions - Is Bl. Oscar Romero one to be celebrated by the whole Church; or is he to be “localized” with his image and legacy used, in the main, to reach out to the Hispanic community; or is he to be set aside as one of those “uncomfortable saints”, somewhat like Francis of Assisi or Thomas Becket in their time. 

Upon reflection, I believe that it is of the highest importance that the whole Church embraces both the life and the legacy of Bl. Oscar Romero.  My reason for this conviction may be surprising to some, in that it has to do with the work of evangelism. Outside of Africa and the Indian subcontinent, the Roman Catholic Church is shrinking.  Taking the United States as an example, we are on the path to follow Europe as a post-Christian society.  According to the latest Pew Research Center Survey (May 12, 2015) all Christian groups have witnessed a decline in their numbers.  Meanwhile, those people who identify themselves as “unaffiliated” have grown by almost seven percent in the last seven years. The percentage growth of those who are unaffiliated is especially high (35%) among those born after 1981.  In the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, for every person who joins, coming in the front door so to speak, five people are exiting via the back door.  Meanwhile, second generation Hispanics are increasingly “unaffiliated” or drawn to evangelical churches.   

We must ask ourselves, “What is this upcoming generation looking for that they have failed to find?”  While the answer to this question is filled with varied factors, I believe the central issue is that of “authenticity” - and it is to this issue of authenticity that Romero speaks, as loudly and clearly as his radio broadcasts or his final homily.  For Romero, there was no division between his faith and his seeking justice for the people under his care.  There was no divide between his love for the Church and his love of the poor. There was no divide between his public persona and his personal piety.  In other words, he was “authentic”.  As such, he drew people to himself and to the Church and to Christ. As such, he has become an example for a Church that reaches out beyond its confines to embrace both the joy and the pain of the world. 

If we can take this as the meaning and message of Romero’s beatification, we may find a future Church that will bear a striking resemblance to the martyred Archbishop.

Compendium: all the documents and pronouncements from the Beatification--check here for complete information

See also:

Romero the Evangelizer

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