JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Blessed Oscar Romero comforting a victim of repression becomes the last photo in our series on Romero in images for the Romero Jubilee Year declared by the Church for the centenary of the Salvadoran martyr. The image is derived from a screen capture from a report by Swiss television, of Archbishop Romero talking with a man named Ignacio Cruz, who had been shot and wounded from a helicopter after a peasant demonstration was disbanded. The scene took place on September 9, 1979 in the village of Las Araditas near Aguilares, according to facts provided by Fr. Octavio Cruz to Super Martyrio.
In the image, Romero listens to the peasant’s account of his victimization at the hands of the Salvadoran military, while he was being treated at the Aguilares parish clinic. The man shows his bandaged injuries on his chest, back and leg, as seen in the video. In his homily that day, Romero had described Aguilares as “a community where martyrdom is making its selections painfully, but gloriously.” Nine days earlier, a catechist, Jesús Jiménez, had been murdered, and Romero went to the place to honor him as someone “who gave himself even knowing that he was in danger.”
In a Central American University (UCA) video, the villager Juan Garcia recalled the visit: Archbishop Romero “gave a broad homily under a conacaste tree, in which he said—because many people called him a pastor—Archbishop Romero told us ‘look, I am not yet a pastor, the pastor is all of you because you are the ones who are guiding me’.”
The image of Archbishop Romero with “Nacho” (Ignacio) made me think of the logo for the World Day of the Poor, which the Church celebrated for the first time on November 19 according to the wishes of Pope Francis. In the symbol for the new commemoration, a person in an elevated position extends his hand to another person in a lower position, ‘inviting the poor to enter and not remain at the door’. The image is consistent with the message that the Pontiff issued for the date, according to which, “we are called to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude.”
The solicitousness of Archbishop Romero for the poor was not limited to making cold and impersonal declarations and exhortations, but he went out to encounter the poor, and he knew how to approach their situation and their station in life, by borrowing again the words of Pope Francis, ‘touching the flesh of Christ’. “Poverty for us Christians,” says the Pope, “is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category, no. It is theological. I might say this is the first category, because our God, the Son of God, abased himself, he made himself poor to walk along the road with us.” And thus, “a poor Church for the poor begins by reaching out to the flesh of Christ. If we reach out to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty, the Lord’s poverty, actually is; and this is far from easy.”
That was the example of Archbishop Romero that this image captures so powerfully. Romero reached out to the flesh of Christ: The Church, he says, “believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own, that cross, that martyrdom.” (December 31, 1977 Homily.)
Surely “Nacho” had never attracted the attention of any archbishop, until on September 9, 1977 Blessed Oscar Romero arrived in Las Araditas and stopped to listen to his story, leaving us a vivid example of how to reach out to the flesh of Christ in the poor.