Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Can a blog impact a beatification?



#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy

Please indulge one last bit of navel gazing in the context of the 10th anniversary of this blog, to attempt to assess the blog’s impact—if any.  I would not underestimate the contribution that Super Martyrio has made in the raising of our beloved Archbishop to the altars,” says Bishop Donald Lippert, O.F.M. Cap., who traveled all the way from Papua New Guinea to attend the Romero beatification last year.  Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Romero’s cause, stated over Twitter that this blog has “worked so effectively for the cause of Bl. Oscar Romero.”  But is this simply lavish praise from friendly clerics who wish to reward my perceived dedication and effort, or is it true that this blog has made any difference?

To be clear: there is no one-for-one influence or impact.  It is my strong conviction, based on my ten years of observation, that canonization causes are strongly protected by procedure and by church culture from outside meddling, and that there is very little chance that an amateur blog could have any effect on the course of any particular process.  Having said that, I do believe that a blog can make a difference around the margins, at least possibly influencing the tone and the mood around a cause, and that’s where I think that Super Martyrio may have made a difference.  Let me illustrate what I mean with five concrete examples of possible influence.

First, I think that a blog can serve to convey messages amongst a circle of insiders.  Prof. Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, the historical expert who assisted Abp. Paglia to establish Romero’s martyrdom, recently told Super Martyrio—also, in the context of the blog’s ten year run—that “especially during the time working on the beatification cause, the blog was a source of hope and encouragement because I saw that a churchly interpretation of Romero was not limited to me, who, being a Roman, could be accused of trying to please the institution located two kilometers from my house” (the Vatican).  Similarly, in a 2015 CNS story, Marina Marta Claros Ramos, of the Pontifical Mission Societies of El Salvador, said she stayed abreast of the latest developments in the beatification by reading the blog.

Second, the blog occasionally served as an advance service for larger news sources, a sort of news broker in the Catholic information world.  The best example of this is the story of the “unblocking” of the beatification by Pope Francis in April 2013.  Abp. Paglia announced the development speaking to a group on Saturday April 20.  A video of Paglia’s remarks was loaded on YouTube that day.  But the audio quality was poor and the speech was in Italian, so the news went unreported over the weekend.  This blog was the first to write up the information in English on Sunday April 21, and to feed it to mainstream Catholic news sources, who published the story on Monday April 22—much more quickly, widely and conspicuously than if the story had slowly filtered out without a catalyst to help channel it to established news outlets.

Third, the blog has served a pedagogical function, seeking to overcome distrust and misunderstanding through increased awareness and knowledge—both among the rank and file, and within the inner circles.  The ‘Positio Super Martyrio’—the real one, the document created by the Church to corroborate that Romero died as a martyr—cites me in a footnote to correct a mistake in the transcription of Romero’s last words which makes a traditional point Romero was making appear to be jarringly political or radical (I explained the mistake here).  Removing such ideological or polemical stumbling blocks was key in obtaining the recognition of Romero’s martyrdom.

Fourth, the blog has on very rare occasions served to spur concrete action.  I need to emphasize both the rarity of such occurrences, and the trifling nature of the results.  After a panel of theologians approved Romero in January 2015, I got wind that the commission of cardinals and bishops were voting on the “Shining Path” martyrs from Peru in February of that year, and pointed it out in a blog post, arguing that it would be opportune to include Romero in the itinerary for the Peruvian vote.  Others brought the suggestion to the attention of the authorities, and Romero was in fact inserted onto the agenda, likely advancing his approval by a month or so, and thus expediting the conclusion of his cause.

Fifth, I suspect that the blog has enhanced the aura of prestige or importance of the Romero cause, simply by virtue of the existence of a blog tracking the cause’s progress.  Not only does it serve to make the cause seem more important or significant, but the nature of the medium may also bring a sense of “cutting edge” importance about it.  A recent Vatican conference on “Managing church communication in a digital environment” included a discussion of the Romero beatification as an illustrative case.

Devotees of other sainthood candidates who may wish to duplicate and perhaps even improve on these results should bear in mind that the above pertains to a martyrdom process.  Beatifications of confessors, as well as canonizations—including Blessed Romero’s future process—are almost exclusively dependent on the certification of miracles by an outside medical board.  For those processes, the five functions served by a blog like Super Martyrio would presumably be less useful or necessary.

Where there is room for debate and discussion to overcome obstacles, however, a blog can become a vehicle to get those conversations started—and to keep them going.

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