Monday, May 09, 2016

Super Martyrio: In the spirit of Blessed Romero


#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy

Duane W.H. Arnold
The Project

It’s hard to believe.  It’s been over three and a half years since I contacted the writer of this blog, asking if he would be willing to share our music video, “Romero”, on his site.  He watched the video and immediately said, “Yes”.  So began a friendship and a collaboration with Carlos X. that has extended to the present day. 

Now, it’s useful to think back to the beginning of the relationship and the historical context.  Carlos had already been laboring on his blog for six and a half years, week by week putting out articles, news and information about Archbishop Romero and the Cause of his beatification and ultimate canonization.  The Romero case seemed to be blocked in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  People seemed to be more interested in promoting the Extraordinary Form of the Mass than in pushing the case of a murdered Central American archbishop who seemed to appeal to only social justice advocates. Worse yet, many of those advocates were outside the confines of the Roman Catholic Church! 

At the time, that was certainly the case with the two members of The Project that had sent Carlos the music video, “Romero”.  I was an Anglican and my colleague, Michael, was a Methodist.  Funnily enough, Carlos never actually asked us about our faith affiliation when considering posting the video.  For him, it was enough that we admired Archbishop Romero and that we had created the song and the video to honor him and to help push forward his cause in a modern socially relevant manner.  The fact that our pronunciation was less than perfect in the Spanish version of the music video must have grated on the ear of a native Spanish speaker like Carlos, but he said not a word.  Instead, he welcomed us with open arms as “fellow travelers” in the cause of Romero. 

It was in this very first series of contacts that I began to see that, in a unique manner, Carlos carried what I can only call “the spirit of Romero”.  It called to mind the pragmatic and pastoral approach of the Archbishop in his own work and ministry.  For example, we can think of how Romero welcomed the Protestant members of the National Council of Churches as allies and, indeed, almost as family when they visited El Salvador before his death.  In doing this, he realized that they could join with him in seeking to quell the violence in his country. They could assist in the process of calling for social justice and in the need to “speak truth to power” both in San Salvador and Washington, D.C.  This is all to say, Archbishop Romero kept his focus on ultimate goals and, like Carlos, welcomed those who would walk with him to reach those goals. 

Through the course of the last three and a half years so much has happened, so much that seemed impossible when we began this journey with Carlos.  The Cause of Romero was “unblocked”, Pope Benedict resigned his office, Pope Francis was elected, Monseñor Romero was declared a martyr and, finally, came the beatification.  Through all these remarkable events, Carlos has provided context, commentary and clear headed observations.  Translations of homilies, letters and important documents have been provided. Standing with others, such as the Romero Trust, Carlos has curated, protected and brought to a larger readership the enduring legacy of Monsenor Romero.  All this, of course, is known to the readers of this site. 

Yet, Carlos has done much that is not known... or known only to a few.  As our music video, “Romero, grew in popularity and as we engaged in promoting the cause of Romero, occasionally we received threats or a bit of harassment from individuals who can only be described as reactionaries.  Whenever such an occasion arose, it would be Carlos on the phone, joking, comforting and encouraging.  In the course of time, as my friend Michael, my wife and I considered coming into the fullness of Catholic faith, Carlos was there - praying, counseling, answering questions, encouraging us to move forward.  Finally, when a little over two years we were all received into the Church, a week later a package arrived at our home.  Inside was an old, well-worn Spanish Bible with a handwritten note. 

My dear brother in Christ Duane, 

In keeping with our tradition of gifting a Bible to new catechumens, I could think of no more meaningful gift to welcome you to our Church than to give you this Bible.  It was given to my mother in 1985 and passed on to me through her thereafter and has been in my hands until now...  

Carlos continued to describe what this Bible meant to him, why some passages were underlined and some pages worn.  He told of being a refugee, fleeing the civil war in El Salvador, ending up in exile in the United States, the Bible always with them.  He went on to explain that the Bible had been given to his mother by a friend named Mila.  She had attended Archbishop Romero’s funeral and her mother-in-law had been one of those who had been killed as a result of the violence during the funeral. He described another episode, a miraculous healing of Mila’s husband and how, though all of these tumultuous events, this Bible had been there.  He then continued, 

You might be asking yourself why am I giving you this Bible rather than to keep it for myself or pass it on to my daughter given its incredible family history.  There’s a multi-part answer to that.  First of all, I give it to you precisely because it means a lot. I wanted to give you something special because you are special.  Simple as that. Second, I don’t want to reduce this Bible to the totemistic status of a memento, or a mere keepsake.  I have to consider that it is the Word of God, whose worth transcends personal property and belongs to the People of God.  Note that I addressed you as “brother in Christ”, and if that word means anything, it means that you too are my family and in giving this gift to you, I am keeping it “in the family”.  Third, this Bible has a history of being gifted from one family to another, so it seems very natural to pass it on, especially at a time of joy. Fourth and finally, instead of giving my daughter a family keepsake Bible, I want to tell her one day that I had this Bible; that it meant so much to me; yet, that I chose to give it away and explain to her why we must open our hearts and express the love that is in our souls rather than be bound to material things and possessions and that is a more valuable gift than just a family heirloom! 

 “Mila’s Bible” now sits on my nightstand.  It reminds me of El Salvador. It reminds me of the tumultuous journey of a family fleeing a war.  It reminds me of a grieving population at the funeral of a murdered prelate.  Most of all, however, it reminds me of Carlos - a friend who in his writing, his work, his life, and in his actions, is attempting to carry the spirit of Bl. Oscar Romero.

May he carry it forward and, together, may we witness the day of Bl. Romero’s canonization. 

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