Monday, June 08, 2015

The Maltese Connection

This month, we are examining books that help us understand Blessed Oscar Romero, his Ministry and his recent beatification. The title that we are examining today helps us understand the global reach of Romero, as we consider the first book on Blessed Romero for an entire (albeit small) nation. “Qatlu lill-Arċisqof Il-ġrajja vera ta’ Oscar Romero” (They killed the Archbishop — the true story of Oscar Romero) by Robert Aloisio is the first book about Blessed Romero in Maltese. Malta, 2015 (460 pages).
In many respects, a Maltese book on Romero is the same as a book about Romero in anywhere else in the world. Accordingly, this book posits that Romero is one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity of the 20th century, a true saint, that he does not belong to the left nor the right, and that he was a man of the church. However, the first Maltese book on Romero must emphasize the only Maltese connection involved in Romero’s story. In a chapter titled “The Maltese Nuncio,” the book provides a unique insight into the troubled relationship between Blessed Romero and Maltese Archbishop Emanuele Gerada, who was Nuncio in El Salvador during the Decade of the 1970s.

Born in Malta in 1920 — the same day, month and year, as Saint John Paul II, the author Aloisio tells us — Nuncio Gerada comes off as a heavy in some oversimplified narratives of the life of Romero. In Aloisio’s telling of the story, Gerada becomes three dimensional and, consequently, so too Romero and his time.
Blessed Romero and Nuncio Gerada.
Aloisio tells the familiar story of how Gerada was originally an ally of Romero — in fact, he pushed him to the Archbishopric in 1977, when progressive clerics preferred another candidate, Msgr. Arturo Rivera Damas, the auxiliary. In a point that was stressed during the recent beatification ceremony, Romero underwent a pastoral change after the assassination of his friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, in the days after the appointment of Romero as Archbishop. Thereafter, Gerada became the unwitting mouthpiece for conservative institutions warning Romero to exercise prudence when he opted for a course that shocked the conformist mentality of the time.

Like St. Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England, Romero and Gerada would see their friendship tested by history. The process was especially painful for Romero. After he received the support of John Paul II, Romero reached out to Gerada, asking that their friendship revert to the warmth of previous years. After Romero’s assassination, Gerada became a witness in the canonization process, testifying that Romero had died for the faith.
There are a few other new details in the book that had not been publicly disclosed. Aloisio describes a meeting between Romero and a young Lorenzo Baldisseri. Vaticanistas will recognize Baldisseri as the current Secretary General of the Synod of bishops, who was criticized by conservatives for his handling of the Synod. In 1977, Archbishop Romero, 60, had to endure a severe rebuke by the then 37-year-old Monsignor Baldisseri, assigned to the Nuncio’s Office in San Salvador. Baldisseri berated Romero like a misbehaving schoolboy, because of Romero’s intention to celebrate a “Single Mass” after the murder of Rutilio Grande. After suffering the outburst in silence, Romero said, “Please tell the Nuncio that there will be a single mass. This is the decision of almost all the clergy, and it is also my decision.”
Aloisio did not write the book, his first, only to document the Maltese connection in Romero’s story. The young Catechist told Super Martyrio that he also wanted to present the Maltese Church with the model of a true Christian to emulate. According to Aloisio, Romero reminds us that human rights are violated not only by dictators and in time of war, but even in democracies when they become dominated by corruption, favoritism, injustice and the lack of social awareness.

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