Monday, May 25, 2015

Which Romero?

Don’t call me a saint;
I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.
Dorothy Day

In February, shortly after Pope Francis authorized the beatification of Archbishop Romero, the Catholic News Agency presented an interview with Monsignor Jesús Delgado, who knew Romero and wrote a semi-official biography. In part it read:

Archbishop Romero “knew nothing about Liberation Theology, he did not want to know about it. He adhered faithfully to the Catholic Church and to above all to the teachings of the Popes.”

His theology was focused on the presence of God among the poor, “which we could describe like this: ‘God present and living with the poor and walking with the poor’,” Msgr. Delgado said.

I will leave an examination of this charge to others. Michael Lee has an article on this in an upcoming book from Orbis Books, but it is available here in Spanish.

When I read this I felt that Dorothy Day’s warning was coming true. Blessed Oscar would be sanitized, a sort of "Romero Lite." He would be invoked in prayer; his relics would be venerated; candles would be lit in his honor. But his radical message of a church that lives out the resurrection of a poor Christ would be pushed to the sidelines.

Would these words of his November 13, 1977, homily be ever heard?

Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?
Here is the touchstone:
Whom do you get along with?
Who are those who criticize you?
Who are those who do not accept you?
Who are those who flatter you?
Know from that what Christ said once:
“I have come not to bring peace, but division.”
There will be division even in the same family,
because some want to live more comfortably
by the world’s principles,
those of power and money.
But others have embraced the call of Christ
and must reject all that cannot be just in the world.

This concerned me. 

When I heard of all the preparations for the event I wondered if the church would present a homogenized Romero.

The tension between a Romero who is "acceptable" to all and a Romero who is really Good News to the poor was present in the two days of celebration I attended. But I believe that the Romero of the poor rose up in the voices and hearts of the poor and those in solidarity with them.

The Vigil presented, for the most part, a Romero who was truly in solidarity with the poor.  It reflected his vision of Jesus:
“Christ appeared…with the signs of liberation: shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope. And this is what God is doing now in history.”
Even though a prominent cardinal praised Romero and his commitment to the poor, he referred to both Romero and his successor Monsenõr Rivera y Damas as “prudent.” 

This was in contrast to the chant later that evening, led by a prominent Jesuit that invoked Romero as courageous:
Romero valiente contigo está tu gente.Courageous Romero,your people is with you.
Yet almost all the hymns of the Mass were from the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan campesino Masses. The opening hymn was from the Nicaraguan Mass: Vos sos el Dios de los pobres: You are the God of the poor.

The hymn places Jesus in the daily lives of the people, He is invoked as a worker, who sweats and struggles with the people. Jesus’ identification with the poor is complete:
I have seen you in the corner store,… selling lottery tickets, checking car tires in a gas station…with leather gloves and overalls.
The hymns and songs of the evening celebrated a Christ and a Romero – as well as the martyrs of El Salvador and Guatemala –risking their lives for the poor.

The Mass of beatification was a little more subdued, but not as traditionalist as some had feared.

Before the Mass there were presentations on Romero as pastor, prophet, and martyr.  These were fairly good and included a sense of Romero’s commitment to the poor.

The Mass began, surprisingly, with the opening song of the Salvador Popular Mass, Vamos todos al banquete.

We are all going to the banquet
to the table of Creation;
everybody on a stool
with a place and a mission.

I get up very early:
the Community is waiting for me.
I go up to the Cathedral with joy,
searching for friendship.

God invites all the poor
to the common table of faith,
where there are no hoarders
and all have more than tortillas.

But the third verse was omitted:
God commands us to make of this world
a table where there is equality,
working and struggling together,
sharing our property.
That would be too much for some – especially some dignitaries and government officials.

Cardinal Ángelo Amato who came in the name of the Pope spoke strongly of Romero’s witness and mentioned the witness of other American saints. He also noted “Heaven ought to begin here [on earth].”

Yet the Romero of the poor was especially present in the many poor who remembered him and whom he defended and loved. And for many the rainbow ring around the sun, that came at the almost the exact moment when Romero’s image was unveiled, as a sign that the heavens also rejoiced at this remembrance of one who loved the poor.

Today at Mass in Suchitoto I saw a woman I’ve known since I was here in 1992. She experienced the repression of the 1970s, the war of the early 1980s, and lives in one of the first repopulated communities here. I asked her if she ever met Romero. She told me that he came for the parish feast day and stood at the door greeting people as he left. She had shaken his hand.

She then recalled how a relative had a large scratch on her chin. Romero gently touched it and asked how she was.

The poor remember Romero’s gentle love for the poor, his strong advocacy of the repressed, his love of the poor Christ.

That Romero was present.


May his memory renew the Church, the nations of Central America, and ourselves so that we may begin to witness to the Reign of God, a Reign of justice, love, and peace.

1 comment:

Randall Mullins said...

Thank you for this John.