A la mesa de la Creación
Cada cual con su taburete
Tiene un puesto y una misión...
From the opening bars of the Misa Popular Salvadoreña (which was originally commissioned by Romero from composer Guillermo Cuéllar to honor the Feast of the Transfiguration and the country’s patron, El Salvador del Mundo) and throughout the Mass this Sunday at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, Monseñor Romero was “presente” and more than just in his image displayed at the altar. He was present in Fr. Joe’s homily, in the prayers of the faithful, in every part of the liturgy.
The music brought me back to the early 80s just after Romero’s death and to the little house Masses we used to celebrate in the Salvadoran exile community in Mt. Pleasant. We always sang from the Misa Popular and shared pupusas afterwards. In a way, my involvement in Hispanic ministry goes back to those fearless hermanos and hermanas who welcomed me into their homes and lives.
My introduction to Romero came from an abuelita – a secular Franciscan – who produced a photo of the Archbishop from her left bra cup and said in a proud voice: “Es mi obispo” – her own personal bishop whom she carried like a beloved nieto next to her heart. I can’t think of a single American bishop I would keep in such an intimate place.
Oscar Arnulfo Romero was killed on March 24, 1980 – one day after he implored the Salvadoran military: “En nombre de Dios, y en nombre de este sufrido pueblo, cuyos lamentos suben hasta el cielo cada día más tumultuosos, les suplico, les ruego, les ordeno en nombre de Dios: ¡cese la represión!”
As Fr. Joe reminded us, Msgr. Romero was not always so prophetic. He started out as a quiet, rather conservative churchman. The more progressive clergy were often disappointed by, or in conflict with him. To the extent that any single event radicalized Romero, it was the assassination of his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ. When they started killing priests, Romero opened his eyes and began to look at the situation in El Salvador from the perspective of the poor.
For those who are not familiar with Oscar Romero’s story, one of my favorite books is María López Vigil’s Monseñor Romero: Piezas para un retrato. It is available in English as Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic. López Vigil has collected and organized eyewitness vignettes from different moments in Romero’s life and so we can glimpse beyond the hagiography and find a real human being who loved his Salvadoran food, could be late, disorganized and irascible, and who was not above appreciating a good off-color joke.
The book also gives one a lot to think about. Those who would put Pope John Paul II’s sainthood on a fast track should read López Vigil’s account (as told to her by the Archbishop himself) of Romero’s trip to the Vatican in 1979 in a last-ditch attempt to get some help from the Catholic Church for his suffering people. John Paul II received him icily and barely gave him an audience, having already decided that Romero was a troublemaker. I sometimes wonder if John Paul II ever felt guilty for not paying more attention to Romero’s pleas, if after Romero’s assassination he ever had any remorse.
Today, El Salvador is a different place. It is no longer risky to be a priest, a nun, or a catechist. The country just had a presidential election that was, by all accounts, peaceful, open and democratic even though both major political parties grew out of its bloody past. There are still poor people, but you don’t sign your death warrant by joining a labor union or participating in a Christian base community. We have come a long way in 29 years, gracias a Dios.
San Romero de América, pedimos tu intercesión por tu pueblo salvadoreño y por todos nosotros para que, con la ayuda de Dios, podemos seguir viviendo en la paz, el amor, y la solidaridad. Amén.
...Cuando el pobre anuncia al pobre
La esperanza que Él nos dio
Ya su Reino entre nosotros nació.
Web Resources on Monseñor Oscar Romero:
- Biography from Wikipedia: English / Español
- La Violencia del Amor / The Violence of Love by Monseñor Romero
- Servicios Koinonia: Página de Monseñor Romero -- This page is a treasure trove that includes the full text of Romero's homilies organized according to the liturgical cycle, a ZIP file of the López Vigil book I referred to in this post, Romero's Diary and many other articles about his life and work.
- Montserrat Galí Boadella, Música para la teología de la liberación (2007).
- José María Vigil and Ángel Torrellas, Misas Centroamericanas. Transcripción musical y comentario teológico (1988, ZIP file)