BEATIFICATION OF ARCHBISHOP ROMERO, MAY 23, 2015
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga will deliver the 2015 Archbishop Romero Lecture of the Archbishop Romero Trust in London this Thursday, October 1st. Cardinal Maradiaga’s presentation will be entitled “From Romero to Francis: The Joy & the Tensions of Becoming a Poor Church with the Poor.” The Cardinal is particularly well-suited for the topic, as he is knowledgeable about both men. He hails from Honduras, next-door to El Salvador and he even met Blessed Oscar Romero when the Cardinal was a young priest. He has spoken about Romero before, leading the vigil Mass at Romero’s beatification in May. Of course, he knows Pope Francis quite well also, because he chairs the Pope’s council of cardinal advisers.
Update: The speech.
Update: The speech.
“Given the Cardinal’s long experience with Caritas International, and his current role working alongside Pope Francis,” says the Trust’s Julian Filochowski, “he is uniquely placed to offer insights on what the often repeated hope of the pope, to bring about ‘a poor Church for the poor’ means, and the links to the vision of Church which Blessed Oscar Romero lived out.”
The link between Romero and Francis has been noted by many others, including this blog (for example, this post two weeks after Francis’ election, which compared the way Romero and Francis both took the Church by storm). More recently, John Allen wrote at the time of Romero’s beatification that “Romero devotees say Francis is the pope their hero would have been.” Huffington Post has linked Romero and Francis in their challenges to secular politics. N.Y. Newsday previewed Francis’ visit to the Big Apple by writing that Romero’s “spirit lives on in Pope Francis, who also embraces humility, compassion and equality.” Card. Maradiaga will presumably put meat on the bones of those arguments with his insights.
Maradiaga’s speech will be notable beyond any interest in Romero because it promises to be very revealing about Pope Francis. The similarities between Romero and Francis do not stem from any conscious attempt by Francis to model Romero, nor, obviously from any intention of Romero to mirror Francis. The similarities are explained by both men’s formation in Latin America and, more precisely, in the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Romero was as much a child of Medellín and Puebla, the 1968 and 1979 meetings of CELAM (the Spanish acronym for the conference) and their documents, as Francis was shaped by Aparecida, the 2007 edition, for which he was the lead drafter of its concluding document. Aparecida incorporated and subsumed the content of Medellín and Puebla.
Austen Ivereigh, author of “The Great Reformer,” a biographical analysis of Pope Francis, told Crux that in Francis’ era, the touchstone for the universal Church is now Latin America rather than Europe. Juan Carlos Scannone, who was one of the pope’s seminary professors, is quoted in the same story saying that the influence of Latin American theology over Francis is particularly visible in his desire for a “poor Church for the poor.”
Of course, Rodriguez Maradiaga is himself a Latin American bishop, who has aroused controversy and become a lightning rod for criticism that is probably intended for Francis. Maradiaga was first criticized by the militant left, after he was depicted as chummy with the forces that ousted the populist Manuel Zelaya from power in 2006. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez sneeringly derided Maradiaga at the time as a “parrot of the empire” and as an “imperialist clown.” Subsequently, Maradiaga was accused of being a socialist by the Catholic right after he criticized capitalist policies. “Cardinal Maradiaga makes his sympathies clear,” John Zmirak wrote in 2013, “when he quotes as an authority on the morality of international investment … a longtime defender of Fidel Castro, who has called the United States an ‘imperialist dictatorship’.”
As Austen Ivereigh, the papal biographer, told Crux, such simplistic analyses are bound to miss the mark. “In Latin America, the liberal-conservative division is restricted to small elites; the Church’s main reference point is the mass of people, who are generally poor and respectful of Church teaching,” Ivereigh was quoted as saying. “The Church in Latin America sees itself as defending the interests, values, and culture of the ‘people’ against neo-colonial interests,” he said, suggesting that same instinct is clear in history’s first Latin American pope.
Thursday’s speech by Rodriguez Maradiaga is bound to be interesting. Anyone willing to listen will stand to gain insights into a man who remains for some an enigmatic pontiff.