Friday, May 22, 2015

Jon Sobrino: "We don't want them to beatify a 'watered down' Romero"

by Alver Metalli (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Tierras de America
May 22, 2015

In the Centro Monseñor Romero, planted at the heart of the Universidad Católica, Jon Sobrino moves as if he were dancing. He founded it after the massacre of his brother Jesuits -- "I didn't die like them only because I was in Thailand," he recalls -- and he is devoted to it as if it were the last mission of his life, now that he has reached 77. An average of about twenty years more than Ignacio Ellacuria and his companions lived, felled by assassins' bullets on November 16, 1989. Jon Sobrino knows well the resistance, the accusations of leftist and pro-guerrilla that rained down on Romero in El Salvador and were received by condescending ears in Rome. So he can't fail to rejoice at the beatification. But it isn't like that. Or at least he has to point out many things about it. We ask him if a few years ago he could have imagined that a day like today would come -- like Saturday, May 23rd, to be exact. In the main room of the "UCA Martyrs" mausoleum, his thin body stirs and he lets out a provocative "It never mattered to me." He repeats it again so it is quite clear. "Seriously...I'm saying it seriously: Romero's beatification never mattered to me." We wait for a clarification. There must be one. What he just said can't be his last words. "When he was killed, people here -- not the Italians and much less the Vatican -- the Salvadorans, our poor, immediately said, 'He's a saint!'. Pedro Casaldaliga wrote a great poem four days later: '¡San Romero de América, pastor y mártir nuestro!' ['Saint Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr!']." He also recalls that Ignacio Ellacuria, who was struck down a few meters from the place where we are, "three days after Romero's assassination, celebrated Mass in a hall at the UCA and said in his homily, 'With Monseñor Romero God has passed through El Salvador.'" He breathes deeply as if needing air. "Yes, that. I never would have imagined anyone could say something like that. It's good that they're beatifying him; they're 35 years late but it's not the most important thing." He makes sure the listener has received the blow. "Do you understand what I'm saying to you?," he exclaims, an indulgent smile sketching his fine lips. All he receives in reply is another request for explanation. "I understand that none of what is happening is persuasive to you..." Near us, they're unloading packets with the latest issue of Carta a las Iglesias, the journal he edits. "It's good that they're beatifying him. I'm not saying it isn't, but I would have liked it done another way...and I still don't know what Cardinal Angelo Amato is going to say the day after tomorrow. I don't know, I don't know if his words will persuade me or not."

But Sobrino won't be able to hear the homily of the Prefect coming from Rome, or doesn't want to hear it. "We know you're going away, that you've programmed a trip, and that on Saturday you won't be in the plaza with everyone. Did you do it on purpose?" He delays in answering, as if asking himself how we knew. Then the clarification comes; "I'm going to Brazil, because in Rio de Janeiro they will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the journal Concilium. I have worked on that journal for the last 16 years. I have to give a speech and then I will retire from the journal. The beatification coincides with this meeting. It's not that I'm going away; I'll watch the beatification ceremony on TV and shortly before noon I'll go to the airport." Sixteen years on Concilium and Sobrino is retiring the day of Romero's beatification. That's news too. On the wall in front of us, the "Fathers of the Latin American Church" are listening very gravely. The gallery begins with Monseñor Gerardi, murdered in Guatemala in 1998, and continues with the Colombian Gerardo Valente Cano, the Argentine Enrique Angelelli killed in 1976, Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a saintly Brazilian, the Mexican Sergio Méndel Arceo with another compatriot at his side, Samuel Ruiz, and the Ecuadorian Leónidas Proano, followed by Monseñor Roberto Joaquín Ramos (El Salvador 1938-1993) and Father Manuel Larrain, the Chilean founder of CELAM, ending with Romero's successor, the Salesian Arturo Rivera y Damas, a key figure in Romero's story and unfairly ignored in the celebrations these days.

On Saturday at noon, according to the program broadcast by the beatification Committee, they should be reading the decree that will formally include Servant of God Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez among the blessed of the Catholic Church. Jon Sobrino probably won't have time to hear it. But he's not worried. He explains his reasons in some fashion while presenting the material of Carta a las Iglesias year XXXIII, number 661, which has on the cover a mural that depicts Romero holding the hand of a campesino's daughter who has just cut a cluster of bananas with a sickle. "Two articles are critical. Father Manuel Acosta criticizes the actions of the official preparatory commission of the beatification. Luis Van de Velde is more critical of the hierarchy. One wonders if Monseñor Romero will be recognized on the day of his beatification. We've been on guard for a while so that they don't beatify a watered down Monseñor Romero. This risk exists; we hope they beatify a living Romero, sharper than a two-edged sword, just and compassionate."

The clothes worn by his Jesuit friends and colleagues on the last day of their lives are hung on display in a glass case in the next room, as if in a closet. Ellacuría's brown cassock, a bathrobe, a pair of pants a little yellowish, all pierced by the bullets that the military did not bother to save. It's natural to think of them and of their beatification process which began recently. "That doesn't concern me either," Sobrino exclaims. "I was in Thailand that day and that's why I wasn't killed. I have seen the blood of many people in El Salvador running; beatifications don't interest me. I hope my words help Ellacuría be better known; we're trying to follow his path. That's what interests me." Not even a sign of appreciation for the Argentine Pope who has promoted Romero's cause? "No, I'm not interested in applauding, and if I do applaud, it's not for the fact that the pope is Argentinian or a Jesuit, but for what he says, for the way he behaved at Lampedusa, for example. What interests me is that there's someone saying that the bottom of the Mediterranean is full of corpses. I don't applaud Jesus' resurrection. Applauding isn't my thing."

Attention is now turned to the day after tomorrow. "I've seen horrors that were never denounced, like Monseñor Romero used to denounce them. We'll see if his words resound on Saturday." To be sure they don't misinterpret him, Jon Sobrino recites them from memory: "'In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.' I heard this from him and it stuck in my mind."

The rest of his thinking about Romero, an "unsweetened" Romero, the "real" Romero, is found in the article he wrote for the Revista latinoamericana de Teología of Universidad Católica, whose editorial committee has included, among others, Leonardo Boff, Enrique Dussel and the Chilean Comblin. "I show what Monseñor Romero felt and said in the last spiritual retreat he preached a month before being assassinated. Then I offer three points of reflection that I consider important. I recall that a campesino said, 'Monseñor Romero defended us poor; he didn't just help us, he didn't just make an option for the poor, which is now a slogan. He got out and defended us poor. And if someone comes to defend it's because someone needs to be defended, and the one who is attacked, needs defending. So' -- this campesino said with certainty -- 'they killed him.' Mother Teresa who was good and didn't bother anybody, received the Nobel Prize. Monseñor Romero, who annoyed people, didn't receive any Nobel Prize."

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