Sunday, September 19, 2010


Most biographies of Óscar Romero contain a one liner stating that his first parish assignment was Anamorós, but they move on to Romero's next assignment without saying anything else about this place. This is for good reason: Romero was parish priest at Anamorós only a few months, and he was at his next assignment as the bishop's secretary in San Miguel for over twenty years. More importantly, though, little is said about Romero at Anamorós because, quite simply, little is known.

The town is small and hard to reach, even today. There are few paved streets and only one road to get into town. Its stretch is of varying quality. About 560 feet above sea level, Anamorós is in a mountainous northeastern El Salvador, near the border with Honduras -- about the same altitude as Lima, Peru. During the Salvadoran Civil War, this region was plagued by strife, with the mountains and rivers that dot its topography providing look-out posts and hiding places for the cat and mouse games of the war.

It seemed even more remote in 1943, when Father Romero arrived late that year. Romero's younger brother, Gaspar Romero, recalls that there was no running water or electricity in the rustic little town. (Gloria Silvia Orellana, «Monseñor Romero me enseñó a perdonar» (Msgr. Romero taught me to forgive), DIARIO CO LATINO, March 24, 2010). Young Father Romero had to reach the village traveling on horseback over the rugged terrain because there was no vehicular access into town. (Id.) Apparently, Father Romero encountered lean times at his first parish. A noted Romero biographer notes: "A stained snapshot shows Romero during this time with two campesinos, looking very thin in a cassock and round clerical hat." (James R. Brockman, S.J., Oscar Romero: A Life, Orbis, New York, 1999, p. 39.)

Romero's brother Gaspar recalls a hard life for Father Romero. He recalls that the young parish priest (Father Romero was 26 at the time) had to bathe in the Anamorós river in the chilly mountain morning air, because of the lack of water service into town. (Orellana, supra.) But, Romero never questioned being sent there, never asked for a reassignment and, when a reassignment came, he did not question being reassigned when he was, even though he had developed close ties with his parishioners. (Id.) Gaspar Romero recalls seing the same serenity in his brother in February 1977, when he was named Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero was very contented at the time as Bishop of a rural diocese, and he sensed that the San Salvador assignment would entail a "high sacrifice," but he told his brother, "I have to obey." (Id.)

Thus, Anamorós symbolizes Romero's humility and unflinching sense of obedience to the Church. Soon after becoming archbishop, Romero lamented that not everyone had the same attitude of obedience. Sometimes, "when there is a change in pastor," he noted, "the reaction of the people is one of repugnance against the bishop who makes this change." He warned such communities: "This is not the Church. The true Church is the one ... where the people are united with their bishop and with their missionary, who must leave them and travel to another community." (9/11/1977 Sermon.)

Anamorós also embodies the lesson Romero preached in April 1978, when he reflected on Christ's teaching that, "Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these" (John 14,12). Drawing on that divine guidance, Romero preached that, "Every priest, even the priest in the most humble parish, is doing greater things than Christ in the sense of today’s gospel." He added that, "The same can be said of the catechist and the parents and the leaders of the Word, his own, his disciples -- they are bringing to the world the Lord’s redemptive work." (4/23/78 Sermon.) Romero expounded on this point in his Sermon to the Teachers, saying to them, "you teach the way Christ taught us by commandment to teach." He continued, "I see the humble teacher from the humble hamlets that I too have traveled, feeling great sympathy for these priests of the schools [and] for the teacher of the uncomfortable lifestyle of the province" -- It is hard to imagine Romero could utter these words without thinking of Anamorós! -- "but receiving such gratitude that perhaps only in that rural setting can be received with such love, and with such sincerity." (4/23/78 Sermon, available only in Spanish text.)

Finally, in addition to giving Romero a lesson in humility and obedience and a lesson about the fulfillment and gratitude from the countryside, Anamorós was also an abject lesson about the realities of peasant life for Archbishop Romero. There also are hints of Anamorós when Romero speaks of the plight of the rural poor:

There is no doubt that the situation of agricultural workers is painful and alarming ... 67% of women campesinas give birth without any medical assistance; 60 out of every 1,000 children born in the rural areas die; only 37% of the families living in the rural areas have access to water; 73% of the children in the rural areas are malnourished; 50% of the rural population cannot read; more than 250,000 families in rural areas live in dwellings with one room and the average number of members in these families is 5-6 persons. This scandalous situation that our campesino brothers and sisters suffer is explained, in large part, by the fact of the unjust and unequal distribution of land ... only 0.07%, less than 1% of the population, own 40% of the land. And the land they own is the best land.
(12/16/1979 Sermon.) The statistics may have come from the Ministry of Agriculture, but Archbishop Romero's righteous indignation in denouncing injustice here comes straight from Anamorós.

The pastoral journey that Óscar Romero concluded in San Salvador began in Anamorós. Although his time in Anamorós was too brief for Romero to make a decisive mark, it is clear that Anamorós left an indellible imprint on Romero's pastoral psyche, which in turn allowed Óscar Romero to make an impact which, today, reaches far beyond the little hamlet of Anamorós.
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