Saturday, September 06, 2014

Romero, Man of God: Month 1-The Family


Romero with his Mother, 1944.

The “Romero Triennium,” 2014-2017, counting down to the 100th anniversary of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero’s birth was launched in El Salvador last month.  It includes monthly reflections for the commemorations; the theme for the first year is “Romero, Man of God.”  The meditation for the first month contemplates how Romero’s early family life provided the faith foundations for his lifelong spiritual journey.  We will follow the reflections here, beginning with this first offering.

It so happens that the Postulator of Archbishop Romero’s canonization cause is also the President for the Pontifical Council on the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.  With the Church’s bishops holding their Synod on the Family this Fall, the subject of Romero’s spirituality and the family is a topical one.  Earlier this year, Archbishop Paglia suggested that Romero would be a saint for families.  Absolutely yes,” he said.  Paglia said that Romero spoke of a Spirit of Martyrdom within the family.  Romero insisted—and this is the extraordinary thing,” said Paglia, “that martyrdom is also a mother who conceives a child in her womb, who births him, who feeds and educates him.  This is martyrdom because the mother is giving her life to that child. A testimony like this is enormously important for Christians today,” said Paglia.

Romero saw maternal sacrifice first-hand in his own mother, Guadalupe de Jesus, who raised seven children, including Óscar.  Guadalupe, who had been a schoolteacher, looked after the children at home while her husband, Santos, earned their bread and butter working as the town telegrapher.  When young Romero, the second of the seven, was 20 years old, Romero’s father passed away, leaving Guadalupe to raise the children on her own.  Tragically, one of Romero’s brothers died of a sudden illness at the same time.  Guadalupe had also lost another daughter during childbirth.  Later, she suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed on her right side.  She passed away in 1961.

Without a doubt, Romero’s road to sainthood began at home from the moment he was born on August 15, 1917.  Romero came into the world on the Feast of the Assumption, and in the middle of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, wherein the Virgin revealed a prophesy about “a Bishop dressed in White” who would be “killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him” at the foot of a Cross (Archbishop Romero would be killed at the altar by a paramilitary death squad).  The child was given the middle name Arnulfo, in honor of St. Arnulf of Soissonsa bishopwhose feast day is August 14.  He was baptized on Sunday, May 11, 1919.  In a lament written at the time of his Father’s death, young Romero recalled that Santos had taught him to recite his earliest prayers.  From his mother, he learned the devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the saints,” says the San Salvador Archdiocese reflection for the Triennium: “we might even say that he suckled on the popular piety that was present in the cradle of his home as it was for the Family of Nazareth.”

Romero devotees are quick to point out parallels to Jesus.  Some date back to Romero’s childhood, for example, in the way he apprenticed as a carpenter.  The Romero household was economically stable, but the rural setting and historic time meant no running water, or electricity, and rustic comforts: for a time, Romero slept on the floor.  But the family was not poor.  Romero’s father owned coffee growing land, and his telegraph responsibility meant he was well-connected.  The children grew up to become professionals, as their parents had been.

In childhood, young Óscar developed an intense interest in religion.  The Romeros’ house abutted the town square which, in turn, abutted the parish church and Romero would stop in every day to pray.  He volunteered to sweep the church.  His interest was so well known that when the Bishop visited the hamlet, the Mayor pointed it out to the prelate: “Look, there is a kid here who is a phenomenon.  You all should take him to the seminary,” he told him.

The family finally assented.  In a final childhood parallel to Jesus, Romero went off to the seminary, at age 12 or 13, losing himself in the House of the Father. (See Luke 2:48-49.)


1. Romero’s early family life and his idea of a Spirit of Martyrdom in the family show us how we can answer the call to holiness in everyday living.  Little gestures like teaching children how to pray and showing them a spirit of selfless giving can prepare them for something bigger.

2. Romero’s early family life also illustrates a quiet link between family life and the struggle for social justice.  Even though we will not die as martyrs for the social doctrine, we can contribute a grain of sand by living in dignity with the poor and teaching our children to do likewise.  In the sermon he had just finished when he was assassinated, Archbishop Romero had talked about this.  It was a memorial service for a dead mother.  Romero noted that by raising her children and encouraging them in their efforts for a better world, she had also contributed.

3.  Romero’s family made many sacrifices.  It was an act of faith for Romero’s father to let him go to the seminary.  It is sometimes said that Romero’s father wasn’t very deeply religious, but to give up an able bodied boy who had started working and contributing to the family and to trade economic contributions for new financial obligations in the way of seminary tuition, was an act of faith for Santos.  Later, of course, the entire Romero clan suffered when their kinsman was slandered and later brutally assassinated.  They were socially ostracized after his death, and were the subject of cruel rumor mongering.

Next month: Romero at the Seminary.
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