JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Before a packed San Salvador Cathedral, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, commissioned as Pope Francis’ personal representative for the occasion, delivered the homily for the centenary of Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth on August 15, 2017.
The Mass was attended by the President of El Salvador and other officials. Church luminaries included San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas and his auxiliary, the newly-minted Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez. Also in attendance were Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila; Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the Archbishop of Managua; Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Archbishop of Merida (Venezuela); Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of Panama, as well as other regional archbishops and all the bishops of El Salvador, in addition to a few others from further afield, such as Archbishop Giovanni Ricchiuti, President of Pax Christi of Italy.
Born in Italy, Cardinal Ezzati arrived in Chile as a young man, where he became immersed in the culture. He was even accused of being a communist and a subversive by the right-wing dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet for the ideas he expressed in a book he co-authored in 1979 which was criticized by the Chilean minister for education as being a betrayal of the nation.
Cardinal Ezzati titled his homily “Archbishop Romero, Martyr of Hope.”
Cardinal Archbishop of Santiago de Chile
Extraordinary Envoy of His Holiness Pope Francis
to the celebration of the centenary of the birth of
Archbishop OSCAR ARNULFO ROMERO, Blessed and Martyr
ARCHBISHOP OSCAR ROMERO,
MARTYR OF HOPE
1. The Birth of a Holy Shepherd
On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to the Heavens, in 1917, shortly before dawn cleared, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez, the second son of Santos Romero and Guadalupe de Jesus Galdamez, opened his eyes to this world. He was born in Ciudad Barrios, in a modest family. His father worked as a telegrapher at the post office; his mother wanted to be a school teacher, but she dedicated herself to her family of eight children. The boy Oscar learned the “doctrine”, as the Catechism was called then. From the lips of his father and his mother a devout heart was formed, possessed of a deep Marian devotion. They prayed the Angelus together with the bells that announced the end of the workday, and they recited the Holy Rosary.
The relationship between the mystery of Mary, the Virgin Mother, which we celebrate today, with Archbishop Romero, is striking. He is born on the day when the Church celebrates the triumph of Mary above all evil, assumed body and soul to the Heavens, and he dies at the start of the celebration of the great feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the immaculate womb of the Virgin Mary, wherein we pass from the painful mysteries to the glorious mysteries of that Rosary that he never stopped praying.
Pope Francis, in naming me his Envoy, writes: “One hundred years have passed since the birth of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, bishop and martyr, illustrious pastor and witness of the Gospel, determined defender of the Church and the dignity of man. Son of the beloved land of El Salvador, he spoke to the people of our time about the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ and his love for all, especially the poor and marginalized. In his priestly life as well as in the beginning of his episcopal ministry he experienced a unique spiritual path that led him to foster justice, reconciliation and peace.”
It is impressive and exciting to read and reread some of his homilies as well as his Diary. How much good it has done my soul!
The Pope has kindly sent me as his personal Legate, to represent him in this ecclesial event that brings you together on this day of joy. You know as much as I do that he has great love for this land “that bears the name of the Divine Savior”, and you also know of his repeatedly stated desire that the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero bear abundant fruits of Ecclesial communion, reconciliation and solidarity among Salvadorans, in order to build a just and noble society. Much have you suffered; challenging are the circumstances you continue to face. The life of every Salvadoran is too valuable to not overcome homicidal violence with “the violence of love.” In this hopeful struggle for life, the Pope is with you, he exhorts you to humanize and share with equity the development of your country, and he sends you his apostolic blessing.
2. A bit of his story
Dear brothers, sisters, and friends: this is not the time to retell the story of the person we celebrate this morning. I know that, throughout this Jubilee year, you have been enriched spiritually with it; however, let me highlight just a few of its contours, to attempt to penetrate its heart and its message.
Somewhat shy and introverted, he entered the Minor Seminary led by the Claretian Fathers at age 13; at twenty, he went to the San José de la Montaña Seminary; from there, after being sent to Rome, he was ordained a priest on April 4, 1942. A little while later, he had to move up his return to his country because of the Second World War. Once back, he exercised the priestly ministry in several communities, including as a parish priest in the Cathedral of San Miguel. He was later appointed Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador (1970), Bishop of Santiago de Maria (1974), and then Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of San Salvador on February 23, 1977, during complex and challenging times for the Homeland and for the Church.
Thus progressed the apostolic life of this young traditional priest. He was a virtuous man, very active in his parish, close to the people, charitable to the poor, albeit somewhat removed from the renewed pastoral options promoted after the Council.
Nevertheless, something began to change in him, especially in Santiago de Maria, as he got to know more closely the extreme poverty of the peasants. The righteous young man begins to worry about injustice and the Good Shepherd, who must do everything with everyone and for everyone, has the experience that it is not enough to accompany the poorest and to counsel the richest. Evangelizing, especially after the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI «Evangelii Nuntiandi», means “bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity ... affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (EN 18-19). And there is no equidistance between good and evil, the just and the unjust, the poor and the rich. This is the preferential option for the poor and excluded, as an option of God himself in the history of his people.
His pastoral ministry continues and tragic events arrive, which rattle his core. One of them was the massacre of a group of pilgrims returning to their village after visiting a shrine. Shortly afterwards, Father Rutilio Grande, who worked on the formation of Ecclesial Base Communities and supported peasant organization, was murdered, shot-up by “strangers”, alongside two parishioners on a rural road in his parish. This was too much. The fire of God scorched the Archbishop's heart. He demanded an immediate investigation from the President of the Republic and, on the following Sunday, celebrated a Single Mass in San Salvador with more than 100,000 participants. Overcoming his timidity, he became the “voice of the voiceless,” to proclaim “the violence of love” that banishes the violence of hatred. No to the violence of the regime. No to guerrilla violence. Yes to a peace that is based on justice and truth, and is respectful of the rights of the poor.
Turning from words to facts, he created the “Legal Aid” office, to assist with the human rights of the poorest peasants, an initiative that had a close relationship with the Vicariate of Solidarity, created by the Church in Chile to take up the victims of the dictatorship.
Additionally, this “voice of the voiceless” is heard on the radio throughout the country, every Sunday, providing an evangelical and Christian perspective on events; a word that forms and informs, a message of hope and respect for life, in a language understood by the poorest. The voice of the Pastor transcends the confines of San Salvador, and rattles the heart of the Church in America and other continents. As is typical of a controversial figure, his word is rejected by some and applauded by others. If you stand at the western façade of Westminster Abbey, a prominent Anglican temple, you will see in a prominent place in a gallery of ten martyrs a statue of Archbishop Oscar Romero, flanked by the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
3. A pastoral conversion
What happened in the heart of Archbishop Romero that he allowed himself to be transformed in this way by the Spirit of God? Humanly speaking, his closeness with the poor, as he took on greater pastoral responsibilities, led him to see the injustice suffered by the peasants with his own eyes, and to witness with Jesus, how difficult it is for a rich blind man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
“The Church has good news to announce to the poor,” he said. “Those who, for centuries, have heard bad news and lived the worst realities, are now hearing, through the Church, the word of Jesus which states, ‘the Kingdom of God is near,’ and there is also good News to announce to the rich: that they should become poor to share with the poor the goods of the Kingdom.”
Today, based on the Conference at Aparecida, we can say that our martyr experienced a profound “pastoral conversion”. It is a decidedly missionary conversion that directly implicates pastoral life and its options. According to Aparecida, “the Church’s ministry cannot ignore the historic context in which its members live.” That is why it must be open to “giving up outdated structures that are no longer helpful for handing on the faith”, moving from “a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry.” Was that not what Archbishop Romero lived out years before Aparecida?
To make this conversion real took a step that concerns and challenges us all. It will not be possible to hear clearly the voice of God in history if we are not present in the vital events of our people. This is how our Blessed expressed it: “How I would like to sear this great idea in the heart of every person: Christianity is not a set of truths that must be believed, of laws to be fulfilled, of prohibitions. This way it seems very unappealing. Christianity is a person who loved me so much and who demands my love! Christianity is Christ!”
Pastoral conversion leads one to want to live like Jesus with the weakest, the poorest, those who do not count. And from that purifying experience, to proclaim the Good News with one’s life, witness and word, taking on the integral defense of life that includes social justice. I remember in this connection the urgent appeal made by Pope John Paul II thirty years ago during his visit to Chile, at ECLAC headquarters, for the entire American continent: “The poor cannot await!,” he said. In a world of so much wealth, so many possibilities, so many technological advances, it is incomprehensible that the poor should still be waiting. And it is even more incomprehensible that this continues to be the case in a Christian Continent.
Those who, like Archbishop Romero, enter decisively on the path of Jesus ... who speak and act in the manner of Jesus, know that they are liable to pass - to make Pasch - in a way similar to the Master. This is what happened to Romero. After his brief homily, in the rite of offering of gifts, before entering the heart of the Eucharist, the murderous bullet targeted his heart ... The sniper received a few coins, like Judas. A few days earlier, the same or another assassin had missed an opportunity to kill Archbishop Romero at another altar in the Archdiocese. That delay made it possible for us to hear the spiritual testament of this great Martyr Archbishop, in his brief homily before dying: “if the grain of wheat does not fall to the ground and die ...” And upon saying this, he gave up his spirit.
4. A Martyr of Hope
However, it is not only the bullet, the dagger, or the sword that make the martyr. In fact, in the words of Pope Francis the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero continued after his death through incomprehension, insults, slander.
Martyrdom is a gift from God. It is God who gives martyrdom as the supreme gift of love in the extreme. It is God who, by his Spirit sustains, the martyr, as he did with his Son Jesus, nailed to a Cross.
The figure of Archbishop Romero cannot be explained without this “virtue”, that is, without the divine strength that would establish martyrdom. There are martyrs for the sake of faith, “in hatred of the faith”; others are martyrs for charity; others, and especially in our American Continent, are martyrs for the sake of justice. It is fair to ask, are there martyrs of hope?
Hope is the humblest of the theological virtues. But there can be no theological faith, if one does not have in one’s sight the point of arrival of human life and of creation, that is, the new earth and the new heavens. For its part, martyrdom for love does not exist without the virtue of hope, since the characteristic of love in the extreme, is to fast-forward the absolute moment, to live a glimpse of heaven amid the greatest calamities of this earthly life. Hunger and thirst for justice are also causes of martyrdom, especially when one lives with the moral certainty that fighting for them will be a reason for rejection and even death by those who create the injustice. All martyrs live by virtue of their hope, wholeheartedly believing that another world is possible.
Consistent with these reflections, I dare say that Blessed Archbishop Romero is a martyr of Hope. He is so for the poorest of the Continent, he is so for our beloved Church, he is so those who struggle for justice, reconciliation and peace, who, with renewed fondness, already call him “Saint Romero of the Americas.”
I conclude with the words that Pope Francis addressed to the dear Archbishop of San Salvador on the occasion of the Beatification of our Martyr: “May those who hold Archbishop Romero as a friend in the faith, those who invoke him as protector and intercessor, those who admire his image, find in him the strength and courage to build the Kingdom of God, to commit to a more equal and dignified social order. It is a favorable moment for a true national reconciliation before the challenges we are facing. The Pope participates in your hopes, and joins in your prayers so that the seed of martyrdom may flourish and become entrenched in the true paths of the sons and daughters of that nation, which proudly hears the name of the divine Savior of the world.”
Brothers and Sisters,
The prophetic words of Archbishop Romero take on their full significance in this Eucharistic celebration: “Martyrdom is a grace of God that I do not believe I deserve. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my blood be a seed of freedom and a sign that hope will soon be a reality…If they kill me, I forgive and bless those who do it.”
Together with Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of this City, all Pastors of the Church in El Salvador, together with each of you, with our hearts and gaze planted on this earth, I invite you to invoke the beloved Mother and Patroness of this People: Our Lady of Peace, pray for us. Amen.