Friday, July 22, 2016

Blessed Romero’s Rib


Romero at the Polyclinic; Don Gaspar with Fr. Sobrino.

#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
One of the most remarkable relics of Blessed Oscar A. Romero has been enshrined in the shack where Romero lived on the campus of the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador. British curator Janet Graffius recounts the process in the latest edition of Romero News, the newsletter of the Romero Trust in London. The relic, says Graffius, is “a grim reminder of Romero’s sacrifice; a piece of his rib, removed at the post-mortem and entrusted to Monseñor’s younger brother, Don Gaspar Romero.”
To contextualize the relic, it is necessary to go back to the moment in time when the relic was collected. Romero had been initially admitted to the Salvadoran Polyclinic to try to save his life, but eventually an autopsy was performed there after efforts to save him proved futile. As the news of his murder spread through the capital, people started arriving at the hospital, among them, Romero siblings Tiberio, Mamerto, Zaida and Gaspar. “When I arrived, they did not want to let me in, but I identified myself,” Gaspar Romero recalled in an interview. “Around 10 all my relatives came in, and I stayed there all night.”
Zaida Romero recounted the pitiful drama before she passed away a few years ago:
At the door of the polyclinic my daughter-in-law and I ran into each other. She says, "Miss Zaida, Miss Zaida" and everyone who was with her embraced me. "Stay calm, stay calm, remember what I told you." They did not want to let me in the room where they had him. "I’m going in," I said, “because I have been by his side for 26 years." [After I went in, l] I kissed his forehead and then I don’t know why I clenched his feet. His feet were already cold, cold. What an awful thing.
Gaspar Romero and his brother Mamerto, also dead now, stayed by the body for what was to follow. “I saw when they opened the left side of his chest to extract the broken up fragments of the bullet,” recalls Gaspar Romero. Mamerto’s widow remembers how the late brother vividly recalled the shrapnel embedded in the flesh and tissue of the thorax. “He would say all the time, it was like grains of sand and he could never forget it,” says Tinita, widow of Mamerto.
Roberto Cuellar, member of the Archdiocesan Legal Aid Office, was also by the martyr at the necropsy. “The impressive thing about the autopsy,” recalls Cuellar, “was seeing how they broke his sternum, because those were rudimentary methods without mechanized saws and electric instruments that are used now. With Romero, they had to use a kind of chisel. Tap, tap, tap!, to break the bone,” says Cuellar hammering the air. According to the autopsy report, “The bullet penetrated up to the heart and followed a transverse path, finally coming to rest on the fifth dorsal rib.”
After the procedure, the scene became a kind of scavenger hunt in which everyone tried to take some memento—or relic—of that terrible but historical moment: a vial with Romero's blood that doctors had collected; bloodstained sheets which the nuns later fashioned into scapulars to hand out to devotees; pieces of the bullet; a handkerchief used to wipe the blood from Romero’s body ... even his pectoral cross.
When a reporter was leaving with the piece of rib extracted from the chest of the martyr, Gaspar Romero stopped him and forced him to give him the valuable relic. He has kept it these thirty-five years. In that time, “the bone had deteriorated into a mass of crumbled powder,” says the conservator Graffius.
On my advice, Don Gaspar allowed the bone to dry out, and I separated it into two small crystal reliquaries,” says Graffius. “One was retained by Don Gaspar’s family, the other he generously donated to the Sisters at the Hospital of Divine Providence,” the place where Romero had lived the last three years, and where he gave his life on that fateful March 24, 1980.
The process was fully recorded, signed and approved by a canon lawyer, and the reliquary was handed over to the Sisters in November 2015. It was a deeply emotional day for us all,” says Graffius. “The Sisters had created a space for the relic, let into the floor in the room which served as his office, bedroom and private space for prayer. A glass tile sealed the relic, lit by discreet LED conservation lighting.”

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