Monday, November 16, 2015

Oscar Romero’s soul brother



#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy

In the studies of the life of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, the impact of Father Rutilio Grande on the thought of the martyr bishop has been widely recognized, but little has been written about another friend who was equally—and, possibly more—influential: Bishop Rafael Valladares Argumedo, a friend from Romero’s youth, seminary years, and the priesthood, who went on to become auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1956 (this week marks the anniversary of his episcopal ordination on November 18). Valladares reached the episcopate 14 years before Romero but he died prematurely in 1961. In a sense, Valladares foreshadows Rutilio Grande, and may be a missing link to interpreting Romero.
It is no exaggeration to say that Valladares was one of the most important figures in Romero’s life. Seminary companions, they lived unforgettable adventures during their seminary years and in the priesthood. They were in Rome together for six years of seminary study; and they were detained together for three months in a Cuban concentration camp during their return trip home. Romero was present during the priestly ordination of Valladares, in his episcopal ordination, and even at the very moment of his death. Valladares witnessed Romero’s consecration as a priest and praised it with a poignant poem. Valladares is one of only two friends whom Romero called his “brother” (apart from his natural siblings; the other is Rutilio Grande), and he confessed in his diary in 1979 that “I still feel him very near.”
Valladares was identified with Romero from the beginning. He was the nephew of Mgr. Juan Antonio Dueñas, the bishop who called Romero to the priesthood. Valladares and Romero were his best seminarians. According to one version of events, Romero and Valladares tied in a contest to go do their seminary in Rome. Valladares, four years older than Romero, went first in 1935. When Romero went to the Eternal City in 1937, Valladares was waiting for him to be his older brother mentor; a friend and compatriot who lived with him the culminating moments of his spiritual life. When Romero was ordained a priest on April 4, 1942, Valladares was there and dedicated these verses to him, some of them very prophetic (see bolded text):

It was a moment ... no more and the meager clay
vaporized before the heat of His lips!
I was stunned, and my pupils dilated
as I found myself before a miracle of love! 

Priest, that kiss of Christ
has invaded your being,
it penetrated your soul and made you eternal,
divine like He is! 

caster, in the basin of your hands
he left his wonders;
for you to love and suffer, in your chest
He put his heart. 

Love, pain, always sublime,
always so, in harmonious duality;
on the cross, they are redeeming death
and in the bread they are the Host of the altar! 

Priest, you are a Host. Have you not felt
The guilt of men upon you?
your sublime form was made
to love and suffer. 

Priest, you are a Host. Open your eyes
and from a background of weeping and dread,
see a thousand bare arms rise
silhouettes of pain. 

hatred with its grimace of revenge
is hurled all around.
it is the fratricidal Cain who sates himself
with the blood of Abel. 

It was a moment no more ... and the sky opened
with its Easter aurora
and in the hands of Christ the poor clay
became a Host of peace! 

Priest, thy name is a poem
of love and pain;
to love and suffer, Christ in your chest
with a kiss left his heart. 

in your dense cry the pains
of men strain your own pain;
and may the flame that fires the holocaust ...
always be your love ...! 

The two young priests, Romero and Valladares, were a team. “Father Rafael Valladares was his best friend among the priests,” recalls Doris Osegueda, secretary to Romero in Memories In Mosaic (Epica Task Force, 2000). “The two were very different, but they complemented each other. Valladares was more of a writer, and Romero was the talker.” Valladares was cheerful and got along well with others, while Romero was stricter and more reserved. Osegueda remembers that Valladares joked about Romero’s dislike of young priests who went without their cassocks and other behaviors that he considered scandalous. “This guy stresses himself out by getting so upset! He blows his top so easily he’s going to spend his entire life suffering from one sickness or another. Now, I, on the other hand, never get angry,” Valladares would tease.
Valladares’ humor masked two significant truths. One was his health, which was always delicate. He suffered in Rome under the food shortages of World War II. His health declined considerably after the episode of the arrest in Cuba, and he struggled to recover, and his condition became precarious after being named bishop. Finally, he died in 1961 after a long illness succumbing to chronic renal failure.
Secondly, Valladares shared Romero’s orthodoxy, but he knew to express it through laughter. In his profile of Valladares, in the second edition of his book La ciudad donde se arrancan corazones, alma y memoria de San Juan Opico, 2013, Saul Antonio de Paz Chavez reveals that Valladares suffered because “he did not want anyone to see him without his cassock even in his sick bed.” The two, Valladares and Romero, were “expert Latin speakers,” says Oscar Manuel Doñas, and they instructed the seminarians in the liturgical language of the Church in the minor seminary of San Miguel, which the two administered. Among the last words of Valladares, on the day of his death was to call for “My breviary ... in Latin,” to pray his deathbed prayers. Oscar Romero was present when his friend breathed his last, and he wrote about the fact in a reflection titled “He died as a saint because he lived as a priest” (cf. the title of the biography of Romero by Msgr. Jesus Delgado, entitled “Thus he had to die: as a priest because thus he lived: Bishop Oscar A. Romero,” Ediciones de la Arquidiócesis de San Salvador, 2010).
Bishop Romero and Bishop Valladares.
Bishop Valladares almost certainly inspired and influenced the ministry of Archbishop Romero. But what were the points of convergence? I would propose three Valladares touches.
First, in the episcopal style. Valladares took the words “SINT UNUM” (Be As One) from the priestly prayer of Christ (John 17: 1-5) as his episcopal motto. Saul de Paz writes that Valladares “ordered all his intelligence and holiness towards unity around the hierarchy” of the Church. Romero also adopted an expression of ecclesial unity as his slogan: “Sentire cum Ecclesia” (To Think and Feel with the Church) from the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which he explained, “specifically means unconditional adherence to the Hierarchy.”
Second, from his reputation as a “constant voice for a genuine social reform based on the Social Doctrine of the Church” (La Prensa Grafica). Since childhood, Valladares loved justice, and venerated the image of Mgr. Ricardo Casanova y Estrada, the Guatemalan archbishop exiled by General Manuel Barillas for criticizing the government. Mgr. Arturo Rivera y Damas, who was Romero’s successor as archbishop of San Salvador, was Bishop Valladares’ peer. Rivera recalled that Valladares told him the poor were “God’s favorites,” proposed to him as models St. Nicholas, “the bishop of the poor”, and Mgr. Von Galen, the “Lion of Münster”.
Finally, one should not neglect the emotional aspect. Of course, we cannot know the extent of the bonds, but I dare to speculate about two. First, I think Valladares foreshadows and prefigures Father Rutilio Grande. Valladares was 48 when he died; Grande was 49. I do not know if the death of Grande would have had the same impact on Romero if Grande had not been rooted in the doctrine and in communion with the archbishop, with a history of friendship with Romero as Valladares had been. Second, the anniversary of the priestly ordination of Valladares may have influenced a decisive day for Archbishop Romero. When Romero was in the Holy Land for the anniversary of the ordination of Valladares in 1956, he offered a Mass in the Basilica of the Beatitudes in his name. Archbishop Romero’s final sermon on March 23, 1980 fell on the 40th anniversary of Valladares’ ordination. Whether deliberately or coincidentally, this may have been the greatest tribute to his friend.
When Mgr. Valladares died in 1961, Opico (the land where he was born) and San Miguel disputed the right to receive his remains. The Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Luis Chavez y Gonzalez, determined that his remains should rest in the crypt of the new cathedral being built in the city after a fire destroyed the old church. This crypt is now known as “The Crypt of Archbishop Romero,” and in it lie two old friends who did not know they were going to be united in death as they had been in life, fulfilling the Gospel that tells us that Jesus sends forth his disciples “two by two” (Mark 6: 7).
The Cathedral under construction, photographed by Romero.  Area of the crypt.
On the 50th anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs and the 26th Anniversary of the UCA Martyrs.

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