JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
|The cardinal designate visits the tomb of Blessed Romero after his appointment was announced.|
Inset: with the martyr in life.
Roque Dalton, the most renowned Salvadoran poet in the modern history of his country, has a poem called “The Aggrieved One’s Turn,” which celebrates the eventual vindication of someone who has been grossly overlooked for a long time: “You have despised my love/You have laughed at its small blushing gift / without bothering to understand the labyrinths / of my tenderness.” For me, nothing explains the appointment of Mgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez as a cardinal than Pope Francis’ desire to correct a glaring historical error—overlooking the “disciple of Archbishop Romero” for an appointment to archbishop and the resulting isolation that Rosa Chavez has suffered in Salvadoran society because of the impression that the church itself did not appreciate him.
Make no mistake: Rosa Chavez deserves the honor—that is precisely why the fact that he had not received it has been such a great oversight. As everyone now knows, Rosa Chavez was chosen by Blessed Oscar Romero to be one of his closest collaborators; to wit, Rosa Chavez advised Romero in the area of communications. Then, it was no less than Pope John Paul II who made Rosa Chavez the youngest bishop in the continent. It was to Rosa Chavez that the Polish pontiff confided his considered opinion that Archbishop Romero was “a martyr.” Later, Rosa Chavez became the right hand of Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, Romero’s successor, in dangerous peace negotiations during the Salvadoran conflict, becoming a figure of international stature.
However, Rosa Chavez was jumped over, not just one or two, but three times in the appointments of archbishops of San Salvador. Rosa Chavez has not only been bishop for longer than the other members of the Salvadoran episcopal conference, but is also more senior in the bishopric than all the bishops emeritus of the country (he will be have been a bishop for 35 years in July). During this period, he has maintained a position of loyalty to the Church and to the archbishops whom he has been called to serve. His work in favor of the Church has included in the administration of Caritas (of which he is a national and continental leader), in his parish where he has developed novel concepts for the reintegration of gang members into society and—of course—in his indefatigable work promoting the cause and preserving the legacy of his mentor, Archbishop Romero.
Pope Francis’ attention for such historical oversights was already put in evidence when the Pontiff acknowledged the unfair treatment to which Archbishop Romero was subjected. “After he died,” the Pontiff said during an audience, “I was a young priest and I witnessed this — he was defamed, slandered, soiled ... even by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate.” The pope declared himself moved by the example: “This gives me strength, God only knows.” It may be that the pope sees in the auxiliary bishop a miniature version of Romero’s martyrdom. In fact, perhaps Pope Bergoglio has a sensitivity for such cases because of his own ecclesial trajectory. It is known that after being the Jesuit provincial of his country, tensions arose within his order that sent him to an “exile” in Cordoba, in the interior of the country. It was an episode that the future pope considered a time of humility and humiliation, before he was named a bishop and “rehabilitated” within the Church.
That is why some interpretations of the Rosa Chavez appointment as a slap in the face to Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas, by naming his “auxiliary” cardinal and not him, seem to me to miss the mark. To the contrary! First of all, as already stated, Rosa Chavez, a bishop since 1982, precedes Archbishop Escobar, who was appointed a bishop in 2002 (and archbishop in 2009). Secondly, in announcing Rosa Chavez, the Pontiff emphasized his status as “titular bishop” of an honorary see (Mullis). In this way, he was not disrespecting Archbishop Escobar by naming his “auxiliary,” but was taking into account his more or less equivalent status as a full—albeit, “titular”—bishop (though the title might be a mere fiction of protocol). Finally, we must take into account Pope Francis’ concept of power. In a homily pronounced exactly four years before the appointment of Rosa Chavez, Pope Bergoglio commented, “When someone is given a higher position — in the world's eyes — we say, ‘ah, that person has been promoted to [president of this association and this man has been promoted] ... Yes, that's a lovely phrase and we in the Church should use it, yes: this person was promoted to the cross; that person was promoted to humiliation. That is true promotion. It is what makes us more like Jesus.”
According to the logic of Pope Francis, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez has been promoted, but not only because of the decision announced this weekend, as his promotion implicates the entire path he has traveled to get there.