JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
|Photo courtesy Tania Escobar.|
Funny how something that would discredit almost any other historical figure, can increase the reputation for sanctity when it comes to a martyr. This seems to be the case after a new and much favored mural of Blessed Oscar Romero on one side of the San Salvador Cathedral that houses the mortal remains of the Salvadoran martyr was vandalized.
In a certain sense, the attack on the artistic depiction serves to confirm the reading Pope Francis gives to the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero as one which “did not occur precisely at the moment of his death”, but one that carried forward “also afterwards” because, through numerous posthumous attacks, Archbishop Romero is “a man who continues to be a martyr.”
Another respect in which the attack enlarges Romero is that the continuous attacks on Romero show his enduring power: Romero lives, and for this reason some wish to continue killing him. This new attack is just the latest in a long parade of symbolic attempts to kill Romero again, even after his actual death. The first one was the firing of bullets on his coffin during his burial. Another, very particular attempt was shooting his portrait at the Central American University during the Jesuit massacre in 1989, a veritable symbolic re-assassination of Romero. His statue in the Plaza de las Americas has been constantly attacked, as have other monuments, including one in Santa Tecla in 2016, and another in San Jorge in 2015.
Finally, a most revealing fact in this most recent attack is the nature of the vandalism. Photos of the damage to the image show that the attackers sought to blot out his eyes, and mouth. Historically symbolic attacks target the vulnerable parts of the anatomy such as the eyes, mouth and genitals. In ancient societies, including Egypt and Rome, gouging out a statue's eyes was intended to keep them from communicating with this world. The natives of the Easter Island destroyed the eyes of the statues of the ancestors of their enemies, trying to rob them of the vital energy that could protect them in the present. In the destruction of icons at Canterbury Cathedral in 1644, the vandals scratched out the eyes of the saints, hoping to prevent them from seeing and therefore interceding on behalf of their devotees.
This dovetails with what Archbishop Romero did in life. “That you may see what my ministry is and how I am fulfilling it,” he said on August 20, 1978. “I study the word of God that is to be read on Sunday, I look around to my people, I enlighten them with this word and I derive a synthesis to transmit to them ... And that, of course, is why the idols of the earth feel a nuisance in this word and they would love to have it removed, to silence it, to kill it.” This is obviously the problem: Romero remains a martyr (which means witness), and many would like to remove his prophetic permanence, and this is why they choose to extend his martyrdom.
The real problem with the vandals is that Romero is immortal now. “God’s will be done, but his word,” Romero said in 1978, “is not bound.” On February 24, 1980—a month before his assassination—he pronounced the definitive sentence in this regard: “Let it be known that no one can kill voice the of justice anymore.”
The disfigurement of the image of Archbishop Romero is part of his martyrdom and perhaps the image should not be repaired, but rather be venerated and enshrined as a relic of the continuous martyrdom for the kingdom of God. Romero lives, and that's precisely why they must keep killing him.
|The image in happier days. EDH photo.|