|Workers spruce up the garden in front of Archbishop Romero's statue at Divino Salvador.|
Day 1 report: I arrived in the Salvadoran capital the day before the beatification of favorite son Archbishop Romero. I was bummed that I missed two snapshots when the plane was taxying to the terminal: the VIP reviewing stand on the tarmac for arriving heads of state, and the new signage for the Monseñor Romero International Airport. I think I made up for it at my first stop, the Arzobispado, where I stumbled upon a private mass presided over by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, concelebrated by Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and San Salvador Archbishop Luis Escobar, for me and one other lucky parishioner—who, similarly, walked into the incredible scene. We were practically high-fiving each other in the parking lot afterward.
I visited two important Romero sites to get a sense of the spirit here: Ground Zero (Divine Savior Square, where the beatification will take place tomorrow), and the Divine Providence Cancer Hospital, where Romero was killed on March 24, 1980. A general festival-like atmosphere pervades. The street closures have begun and, while the streets aren’t particularly crowded yet, there is a sense of expectation in the air, and also an ineffable mirth. There are children running in the street in what amounts to El Salvador’s Time Square. Bicycle enthusiasts pedal through the scene in disbelief, dodging heavily armed soldiers patrolling the streets, and groups of foreigners listening to tour guides tell them about Monsignor Romero in various languages. Upstairs at the McDonalds across the way from the Divine Savior Monument (which surprisingly was open), I heard a Salvadoran father explain to his wife and children the difference between beatification and canonization.
The streets immediately surrounding the square are filling up—with vendors. By the speed with which the stalls are going up, they expect something to start happening tonight—when a candlelight march from the Metropolitan Cathedral downtown to the Plaza brings the first large group of pilgrims to the beatification site. The main altar is still abuzz with construction and finishing touches. At one point, a native indigenous group was drumming and dancing in front of the empty altar, while loud ‘techno’ music pulsed at the large TV screen about a block away—call it a “sound check.”
My Internet access is not great. Expect sputtering reports until tomorrow when I should have a steady connection for the ceremony from the media tent behind the main altar.