Tuesday, February 21, 2017

“The lowliest member of the family”: 40 years of Archbishop Romero


#BlessedRomero #Beatification

Ricardo Urioste rang the bell at the entrance of the Major Seminary of San José de la Montaña, expecting that a guard or clerk would open the door. To his surprise, the door opened quickly, as another cleric was leaving when Father Urioste was arriving.

It was none other than Msgr. Oscar A. Romero, who had recently been appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. “Hello!”, Fr. Urioste exclaimed, somewhat taken aback by the surprise encounter. Msgr. Romero answered with a plea: “Help me.”

It was the same words that the new archbishop had addressed to other priests such as Fr. Fabian Amaya and Fr. Jesus Delgado, whom Romero had explicitly asked for help in gaining the trust of the clergy. The choice of Msgr. Romero, then bishop of Santiago de Maria, and not Msgr. Arturo Rivera Damas, auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese for almost two decades, had received a cool reception and Romero’s conservative reputation alienated the progressive clergy of the Archdiocese even more.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the installation of Oscar Romero as 4th Archbishop of San Salvador this February 22nd, perhaps the principal point to recall is the meekness of Msgr. Romero which was able to conquer the aloofness of the clergy. “I was impressed by his humility, a characteristic that always distinguished him,” recalls Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, the priest who met him at the door of the seminary, and went from being an opponent of his appointment to one of his closest collaborators.

Jose Siman, a committed lay person in the Archdiocese, remembers hearing similar words from the new archbishop: “Help me, I need help, I will not be able to do this alone, I need your support.” The effect was the same within the laity as it was amongst the clergy—according to Siman: “the attitude pleased people”.

It was the same attitude Romero had struck as Bishop of Santiago de Maria, where Romero, while investigating a pastoral house that the government accused of being subversive, had pleaded in a meeting with the clergy—including the accused—“Help me to see things clearly!

Even before assuming his post as Archbishop, Romero had already hinted at his outlook as a friend and defender of the clergy, when he said in an interview with La Prensa Gráfica published twelve days before he took over: “The government should not consider a priest who takes a stand for social justice as a politician or subversive element, when he is fulfilling his mission in the politics of the common good.”

The trial by fire would come the next month. In the “Single Mass” for the assassination of his friend Fr Rutilio Grande, Romero felt cheered and protected by his clergy. “The lowliest member of the family, chosen by God to be a sign of unity—this bishop—graciously thanks you for joining him in giving the awaiting world the Church’s word,” he said addressing the crowd of 100,000 gathered. “My own weaknesses and my own inabilities find their complement, their power, and their courage in these united priests.”

In fact, it had been Romero’s virtue that brought about that unity.

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