Tuesday, February 03, 2015

And The Óscar Goes To... The Altars – Romero, Blessed At Last

Just shy of 35 years since Don Óscar Romero was assassinated while saying Mass in a hospital chapel, earlier today the Pope capped the lengthy fight for the church's recognition of the late archbishop of San Salvador by ratifying his martyrdom "in odium fidei" ("out of hatred for the faith"), thus clearing the final procedural hurdle to Romero's beatification without the need for a first miracle.

While the decree was essentially a formality given Francis' on-record intent to move the long-stalled cause – especially after the unanimous vote last month affirming Romero's martyrdom by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the timing of the necessary final step particularly reflects the Pope's determination to see the process through as well as his oft-discounted dedication to popular piety: today marks the memorial of St Ansgar, the 9th century bishop of Hamburg whose name translates in Spanish as Óscar, hence it's Romero's patronal feast... and with it, already St Óscar's Day.

In addition, according to the El Salvador-based Super Martyrio site, this 3 February is the anniversary of Romero's 1977 appointment as archbishop of the country's capital.

Having assiduously reported every curve of the Romero cause, the Salvadoran outlet said that while the process had indeed long been blocked in Rome "on suspicion of doctrinal irregularities and ideological exploitation by the Left," its resistance did not come from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but "from the Vatican Curia," principally in the figures of two Colombian cardinals, Dario Castrillón Hoyos and the late Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, whose respective ascents both reflected what became a staunch doctrinal and cultural conservatism in the face of liberation theology's dominance in the trenches of the Latin American scene.

His elevation long a cause celebre among the church's social-justice wing given Romero's outspokenness as archbishop on behalf of the downtrodden and against the state-condoned murders of clerics and others who advocated for them, despite earlier speculation that Francis would reserve the beatification rites to himself – whether on a visit to El Salvador or at a Mass in Rome itself – and even that he might move for an immediate canonization, the Pope himself nixed the theories on his return from Manila in mid-January, when he joked during the in-flight presser that "there will be a war" between the Vatican's Saint-making chief, Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, and the cause's postulator (lead coordinator), the Curia's Family Czar Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, over "which one will celebrate the beatification," indicating that it would take place on Romero's home-turf.

The martyrdom vote by Causes of Saints now understood to have been the cause of his last-minute backing out of a scheduled US trip in early January, Paglia will lead a briefing on the beatification tomorrow morning in the Holy See Press Office. To date, no indication on the timeline for the ceremonies has yet emerged.

Once the rites have taken place, it's worth reminding that – at least, in the conventional understanding of things – beatification admits the public veneration of the Blessed on the local level solely in the place(s) where the person lived and served; only canonization extends the local cultus to the universal church. That said, in cases like Romero's where, beyond a blessed's primary mission-field, a genuine "cult following" is evident (in the way that coined the term), other episcopal conferences may move to petition Rome to add the feast to their national calendars.

In other words, as the soon-to-be Blessed Oscar's following indeed runs rather strong among diverse elements of US Catholicism – and almost as much, amid the ongoing scrutiny from some quarters over the degree of the Stateside bench's affinity for Francis and his missionary orientation for the church – a USCCB move to add Romero's feast to the domestic calendar would serve as a potent signal that the bishops have indeed signed up to this pontificate's songbook.

In any case, while the 24 March anniversary of Romero's murder has no other conflicting feasts, the date's frequent occurrence during Holy Week (which would prevent it from being observed in any fashion) suggests that another option will be sought. The archbishop's anniversary is now marked by the United Nations as a global day "for the right to truth concerning human rights violations and for the dignity of victims."

All that said, given the prominence of the moment, below is the text of Romero's final homily on 24 March 1980 – the preach cut short by an assassin's bullet:

* * *
You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest....

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.... Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth....

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy....

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain --- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer....

[At that, a postscript reads thus: "A shot rang out in the chapel and Archbishop Romero fell mortally wounded. He died within minutes, on arriving at a nearby hospital emergency room."]