Friday, April 10, 2015

Romero beatification update #12

Memo to journalists covering the beatification of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero in San Salvador on May 23rd: What will this beatification mean as a historic event or international news story?  Beyond the novelty of having one more name added to the honor roll of Catholic saints, the Romero beatification is portentous enough that San Salvador Archbishop José Luis Escobar once called itthe greatest thing that could happen to this country.”

John Allen Jr. of CRUX and the Boston Globe frames the issue when he writes this week that expectations will differ based on perspective.  Progressive Catholics will be looking for validation for the social justice “agenda” and its heroes but, for average Salvadorans, the question will be whether a “Blessed Romero” can bring about a more Christian and less violent society.  Church-watchers will also be looking for signs that the Salvadoran Church will have a more active voice in Salvadoran society, while others will look for hints of change in the Latin American Church, generally—Brazilian Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga once boldly proclaimed that “The history of the Church in Latin America is divided into two parts: before and after Archbishop Romero.”  Or perhaps the story will be whether Romero will be the patron saint of the Francis pontificate.

Whether a ‘Blessed Romero’ will be able to fulfill any of these tall orders will not be known by the end of Pentecost weekend, when the beatification takes place.  Here are five questions that will provide significant leads into whether or not these possibilities will be advanced by the first-ever beatification on Central American soil.

  1. Who shows up.  Salvadorans are perennially impressed by the devotion Romero attracts outside El Salvador.  The recent commemorations of Romero’s assassination in March included a powerful homily by the visiting Spanish-born cardinal from Panama, José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, who electrified the San Salvador Cathedral by declaring in his booming Castilian tone that Rome had spoken and there was now no doubt that Romero is a martyr who was killed in hatred of the faith.  There are some signs that the short notice, however, may prevent some from attending.  For example, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, a member of the Pope’s council of cardinal advisers and avowed Romero admirer, won’t be able to make it due to unmovable preexisting commitments.
  2. How many show up.  The country is gearing up for a large scale event.  A recent peace march demonstrated that an internal mobilization of half a million people is conceivable, and a recent beach soccer tournament in the country showed that the airport can handle a large scale influx (16 teams flew in and 15,000 visitors entered the country).  Airport authorities are developing procedures to simultaneously process multiple transactions jointly.  A new Salvadoran airline, VECA, has announced charter flights especially for the occasion (e.g., from Venezuela).  Obviously, a blow-out event would better bode for a ground shift than a paltry showing.
  3. Who else participates.  Dioceses in Argentina, Venezuela and Chicago are among those plan to “join” the beatification in prayer through major planned events that will coincide with the San Salvador ceremony.  Meanwhile, there are signs that SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, will move to have Romero declared co-patron of Catholic communicators (alongside the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael).  Rocco Palma has suggested that the USCCB should “move to add Romero's feast to the domestic calendar.”  Broad participation would similarly be more reflective of far-flung consequences than an event that is limited to one country or region.
  4. How the story plays in El Salvador.  The Salvadoran press has been historically aloof to Romero.  When 250,000 gathered to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Romero’s death in March 2000, the leading Salvadoran paper reported the crowd as consisting of “hundreds.”  The far-right newspaper reported that “tens” of participants had turned out.  Today, when i-Phone videos, Twitter and Facebook hold sway, a historic turnout would be impossible to deny.  Still, the rightwing could boycott the event, as they did the recent peace march, and the Salvadoran Assembly vote this week granting Romero recognition as a Most Meritorious Son of El Salvador.
  5. How the story plays in the Catholic world.  Will the Catholic commentariat be distracted from its obsession over sex issues in the upcoming Synod on the Family long enough to notice the Romero beatification?  One can be hopeful based on reaction to the preliminary approvals, which garnered coverage in major Catholic newspapers and web sites, with conservative Catholic voices joining the celebration, including the Prelate of Opus Dei, the Acton Institute’s Fr. Robert Sirico, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, columnist Ross Douthat and blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

It is not necessary for all of these factors to be satisfied.  Indeed, a decisive showing in one or two of these may be enough to give the event the impetus necessary to break through to historic proportions.  Similarly, the absence of a “knock out” in any particular category may not matter if several of these register a strong showing nonetheless.  That is where our analysis will be key to ensuring a correct understanding.

Super Martyrio will continue to monitor developments and provide a weekly Friday update regarding the ongoing beatification plans.  On a personal note, I can confirm that I will be in San Salvador for the beatification just six weeks away this Divine Mercy Weekend.

Read my last update here.
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