If they kill me I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.
– Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero
On the afternoon of Saturday, May 23, under a perfect blue sky hundreds of people gathered at Iglesia San Mateo/St. Matthew’s in Hyattsville, MD to celebrate the beatification of Monseñor Oscar Romero, martyred Archbishop of San Salvador. It was a moment of jubilation for Salvadorans and others of the Americas who have revered Monseñor Romero for so many years. The church was packed and beautifully festooned with flowers and photos of the martyred Archbishop. The joyous music of the Misa Salvadoreña filled the air. Our hosts, the Rev. Vidal Rivas, Senior Priest, and the Rev. Anna Langerak, priest associate, and the good people of St. Matthew’s/ San Mateo gave all a splendid welcome. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde celebrated the Eucharist in Spanish and the newly consecrated Episcopal Bishop of El Salvador, Juan David Alvorado, preached for the occasion.
Monseñor was a great prophet and martyr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was murdered because he spoke for those who had no voice at a time when violence and intolerance ruled all of the social structures of our country, El Salvador…Romero is a guide and inspiration for interreligious understanding because Monseñor Romero does not belong only to the Roman Catholic Chruch. He belongs to all historical churches and other religions as well.
– Juan David Alvarado
WHAT IS BEATIFICATION? WHO WAS OSCAR ROMERO? WHY WAS HE IMPORTANT?
Beatification is one of the last steps in the long process of becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. On the very same morning of the 23rd, in San Salvador, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans gathered to witness the beatification of their hero. A letter from Pope Francis read by the pope’s envoy declared that the faithful might find in the newly Blessed Oscar Romero the “strength and courage to build the Kingdom of God, to commit to a more equal and dignified social order.” Romero, duly beatified was now holy and worthy of veneration. We Episcopalians have known that for a while–in 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that Oscar Romero would be celebrated in our calendar of saints on March 24 along with the Martyrs of El Salvador. His statue appears in the Portico of Justice in the Washington National Cathedral as well as in the gallery of 20th century saints in Westminster Abbey.
In truth, the poor of El Salvador have always considered Monseñor Romero a saint. During the years the Salvadoran civil war, Romero tirelessly defended the poor from the repression and the mounting violence and visits of military death squads. In response to this violence, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter warning him of growing human rights violations and asking him to reconsider U.S. support of the military-backed junta government. The dignity of all people and his solidarity with the poor was at the very heart of his understanding of Christianity. He became the “Voice of the Voiceless.” The price he paid was his own death. On March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Holy Eucharist in a hospital chapel, Monseñor Romero was assassinated—silenced by a government plot. His role in history and in the church has been politicized and controversial. His beatification on May 23rd was much welcomed recognition by the Catholic church that the struggle for justice is indeed at the core of who we should be as followers of Jesus.
At the end of the joyful celebration at San Mateo, Bishop Mariann presented the congregation with a statue of Monseñor Romero—the first casting of the stone carving of Romero that adorns the Washington National Cathedral. It was a moment of sheer joy—a perfect tribute for a man adored by Salvadorans and honored and respected around the world.
El Salvador continues to be plagued by violence, but it came together in the name of Romero in a moment of historic significance. Pope Francis hoped that his beatification would serve as a seed “for true and proper reconciliation.”
Before he died, Oscar Romero said, “If they kill me I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” He does indeed live on in the hearts of his people. Let us pray that the dignity for the voiceless poor, the justice and peace that were at the heart of his struggle may rise as well.