Friday, June 12, 2015

'Who do they say I am?': the Romero decree


Cardinal Amato holds up the beatification decree.

By Duane WH Arnold, PhD (“The Project”) 

In the midst of an extraordinary series of events surrounding the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero one singular momentin fact, the singular moment of the ceremonytook place with relatively little comment as to its significance: that is, the reading of the actual Apostolic Letter for the Beatification. Much has been said of the solar halo which appeared above the heads of those gathered for the celebration at the moment of the reading of the decree, but little has been said of the words of the decree itself.  

Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez, Bishop and Martyr,
Shepherd after the heart of Christ,
Evangelizer and father of the poor,
Heroic witness of the Kingdom of God,
Kingdom of justice, brotherhood and peace,
Henceforth shall be called Blessed ... [FULL TEXT] 

While a friend was listening to the Italian television broadcast of the ceremony [YOUTUBE VIDEO], he heard one commentator note that the language of the decree was very “poetic.”  Thinking of this, I began to wonder, was this from the hand of Pope Francis himself, or was it the work of Monsignor Paolo Luca Braida, who coordinates many of the Pope’s written statements? In all likelihood, we will never know for certain and perhaps it is of no consequence.  I then remembered, however, that the long-time Romero advocate in El Salvador, Jon Sobrino, SJ, director of the Romero Center on the campus of UCA, San Salvador, once wrote that the key to Romero’s beatification would be found in how the beatification was described in the Apostolic Letter. This caused me to look again at the document that is, indeed, the central fixture of Archbishop Romero’s beatification. 

Now, let us be clear, an Apostolic Letter for Beatification does not rise to the level of an infallible decree. It is, rather, an act by which the Sovereign Pontiff grants permission to render public honor to the one who is beatified in certain parts of the Church until canonization, at which point, if attained, the giving of such honor becomes a precept for the whole Church. Nonetheless, the Apostolic Letter for Beatification carries within itself the phrase, “by virtue of our apostolic authority”. Furthermore, the one being beatified is described in the name of the reigning pontiff and the document carries the seal of the Fisherman’s Ring. Moreover, each Letter for Beatification is subtly different, carrying with it a description of not only the person, but, perhaps more importantly, the attitude of the Pope in regard to that person and to their identity. 

In the case of Romero, the question of identity has always been central and, at times, problematic. Some might even say that the question of identity was, literally, the main impediment to his beatification. Who was Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez? Was he the voice of the “left” in the years preceding the civil war in El Salvador?  Was he a “new voice” of liberation theology? Perhaps, he was merely a Church functionary, caught up in a cycle of events beyond his control.  We find echoes of the question of Christ, “Who do men say that I am? (Mark 8:29.)  It is my contention that the Apostolic Letter for the Beatification of Romero settles the question of identity with regard to Romero once and for all time and, perhaps even more importantly, tells us something of Pope Francis’ vision for the Church in the twenty-first century.   

In the letter cited above we find what we might call the “prologue”it indicates the “local” nature of the cultus, the request of Archbishop Alas of San Salvador and the attendant assurance that the Congregation for Saints has been consulted in the process30 years compressed into a few short sentences. Romero’s name is then given in full, followed by two titles, ones familiar to those who follow saints’ days in the Church calendar. The titles are those of “Bishop and Martyr”.  Here, the first issue of identity in regard to Romero is set to rest, once and for all. Firstly, he is a Bishop, that is, he is a man of the Church. He is not a revolutionary or a politician; he is not a leader of the “left” or the “right” or the “center”; he is a Bishop, a pastor of the people of God.  Secondly, he is a Martyr. That is, he did not die representing a political cause, but in odium fidei. It is explicit.  Oscar Romero died out of hatred for the faith and as one who represented and embodied that faith in its fullness. As such, he is, in the words of St. John Paul II, “our martyr”. 

Amazingly, this identification as “our martyr” is strengthened and enlarged upon in the next lines of the text which provide Romero with unique and unexpected descriptive titles. He was a “Shepherd after the heart of Christ”, here referring to John 10:11 in which Christ says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep”.  In my opinion, this takes the issue of Romero’s martyrdom to yet another level, one in which he dies not only out of hatred for the faith, but in imitation of Christ himself, protecting those given to his chargeprotecting them in denouncing the killing of priests, religious and lay people; protecting them in denouncing the repression by the military; protecting them in calling for justice and peace.  

This receives even greater emphasis in the next phase in which Romero is called “Evangelizer and father of the poor”.  Surely this refers to the proclamation of Christ in the synagogue in Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news (euangelion) to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed...” Again, an imitation of Christ and, we might note, a subtle nod to a classic text of liberation theology, but kept within the confines of Romero’s martyrdom as a “man of the Church”.  Moreover, it is an answer to those who might consider Romero a “political demagogue” owing to the themes of social justice in his pronouncements. The answer is simply this, Romero was following the example of Christ. 

Yet, if all of these descriptions and titles are meant to place Romero firmly within the context of the Church, the remaining portion of the letter seems to indicate both who Romero was, why he died, and, I believe, how Pope Francis views the very nature of that Church.  Romero is described in the words of the Apostolic Letter as an “Heroic witness of the Kingdom of Godnot a victim of the struggle between the “left” and the “right”, not as a quasi-political assassinationbut as a witness (here the legal term testis is used) of a third way - that third way being, “the kingdom of God”, which is to be shown forth in the life of the Church. How is it to be shown forth? It is to be shown forth as a “Kingdom of justice, brotherhood and peace”.  

Mere poetic expressions? Perhaps... Yet then again, might we believe that this is the vision of Pope Francis for the Church?  A “Church which is poor and for the poor”. Or, again, “where there is no mercy, there is no justice”.  These are the words of Pope Francis, yet it seems, and indeed we might believe that this vision of the Church was exemplified by Bl. Oscar Romero of El Salvador in his life and in his death and that this has now been recognized in his beatification. 
Pope Francis and an image of Blessed Romero, June 7, 2015.

By Carlos X./Super Martyrio 

Duane’s closing question—whether the expressions found in the Apostolic Letter for Archbishop Romero’s beatification reflect the vision of Pope Francis for the Church—may be further illuminated by their placement in several recent Church texts of Pope Francis. 

Most observers agree that the most important pre-pontifical writing by Pope Francis was the Final Document produced by the Latin American Bishops at their decennial meeting in Aparecida, Brazil—Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was its principal drafter.   In the Aparecida Document, the Latin American bishops say: “As successors of the apostles ... we bishops have accepted with faith and hope the calling to serve the people of God, according to the heart of Christ, Good Shepherd.” Aparecida, 186.  The Aparecida Document goes on to say, “We cannot forget that the bishop is … witness of hope and father of the faithful, especially of the poor.”  Ibid, 189.  In the working paper that preceded the final document, the Latin American bishops had resolved, that “Mindful of his title as Father and Defender of the Poor, the Bishop has the duty to inspire charitable works towards the poor with his example and his works of mercy and justice, through individual acts as well as through an ample variety of programs of solidarity.”  Propositiones, 141. 

In his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013), widely regarded as the blueprint for his papacy, Pope Francis highlights the role of the bishop as evangelizer: “The bishop must always foster missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths.”  EG, 31. 

Another document that Card. Bergoglio helped to write behind the scenes is lesser known but probably even more relevant to the issue of a model bishop: Saint John Paul II’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Pastores Gregis (2003).  Card. Bergoglio not only helped to draft it but was the senior official present at the Vatican press conference introducing the document.  That document declares that, “Like holy Church herself, which is in the world the sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, the Bishop is the defender and the father of the poor, concerned for justice and human rights, and one who brings hope.”  PG 67.  Pastores Gregis also elaborates that to be a shepherd according to the heart of Christ means not only to give one’s life for the flock, but also to be collegial and down to earth: “the Bishop governs with the heart of a humble servant and a caring shepherd, who guides his flock as he seeks the glory of God and the salvation of souls. When exercised in this way, the Bishop’s manner of governance is completely unique.”  PG 43. 

Finally, the characterization of Romero as a “Heroic witness of the Kingdom” is a reference to the standards for holiness stated by John Paul II in Divinus Perfectionis Magister, the 1983 reform of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  In the introduction, the sainted Pontiff had said, “In all times, God chooses from these many who, following more closely the example of Christ, give outstanding testimony to the Kingdom of heaven by shedding their blood or by the heroic practice of virtues.” 

In sum, these sources show that the descriptions in Pope Francis’ apostolic decree were not happenstance, but deliberate terminology intended to demonstrate that Blessed Oscar Romero fulfills the idealized description of a model bishop.

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

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