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POPE FRANCIS, UNBLOCKING THE CAUSE FOR BEATIFICATION OF MONS. ROMERO
A symbolic reading
By Armando Márquez Ochoa
International Christian Service in Solidarity with Latin America – (SICSAL)
I believe that we have to read the unfreezing of the cause for Mons. Romero’s beatification within the framework of the multiple symbolic gestures that Pope Francis has been making since the very moment he was elected Bishop of Rome. In that sense, I think we should take it serenely, but also with much hope.
From the beginning, the symbolic gestures of the Pope have followed a tendency toward change, setting a standard of simplicity and looking to a more Gospel-oriented Church. They are initial gestures that are lent more validity with this unblocking of Mons. Romero’s canonization process.
Cardinal Bergoglio, in a relaxed tone, explained in his press conference on March 16 why he chose his name: “Some people didn’t know why the Bishop of Rome wanted the name Francisco. People thought of St. Francis Xavier, or of St. Francis de Sales, and also of St. Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the [papal] elections, the Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paolo was sitting beside me, as well as the Congregation for the Clergy’s Prefect Emeritus, Cardinal Hummes, a friend, a great friend. When things started to get pretty dangerous, he comforted me. And when the votes got up to two-thirds, there was the customary applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss and he said to me, “Don’t forget about the poor.” And this word stuck with me: the poor, the poor. Immediately, in relation to the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Asisi, and so the name entered my heart: Francis of Assisi To me, he is the exemplar of poverty, the man of peace, the man the loves and cares for creation.” Now, in coherence with this, the Pope has thought of Mons. Romero, the bishop who is symbolic of the preferential option for the poor, and probably in a similar way, the name has entered into his heart, and he decided to unblock the process.
Cardinal Bergoglio has chosen the name of a saint who received this message: “Francis, repair my church; don’t you see that it is sinking?” Implicitly, and I hope explicitly, too, this appeal from the Christ of the hermitage in St. Damian is part of the Pope’s intuition in choosing his name; I think that Mons. Romero’s model of church can certainly renew the Church today in a deep way.
In the above-mentioned press conference, the Pope expressed, spontaneously, but I believe from the depths of his heart: “Ah, how I wish for a Church of and for the poor!” It is in harmony with this desire, we understand, that he has unstuck the process for promoting Mons. Romero as a pastoral model and promoting his Church as a model of the “Church of and for the poor.” This is what “canonization” means, to hold someone up as “canon,” as the “measure,” to be the measuring stick by which we measure ourselves and according to which we will be measured and held accountable.
The unblocking of this process also means an unblocking of our minds, and a call to understand that the figure and teachings of Mons. Romero could serve as “canon” for our personal lives, for the life of our communities, for the life of the curia, for the life of the Church, and for the life of pastoral ministers, who have been asked “to be pastors with the aura of the sheep” (Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013) and who have been reminded that “you are pastors, not functionaries” (Priestly ordination, Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2013). Without a doubt, Mons. Romero is a good example of this: “It is true that I have walked in El Jicarón, through El Salitre, and many other villages; I rejoice in being among my people and feeling the affection of all these who see hope in the Church, through their Bishop” (Homily, September 25, 1977). We are in a moment, then, of “dusting off,” of unblocking Mons. Romero’s ecclesiology, his Christology, his pastoral care, and his prophetic message, and of giving them life in the present day. Isn’t it meaningful, then, this gesture of Pope Francis, as administrative as it may seem?
These and many other questions are born of the intelligence that God has given us and out of the love for the Church in the spirit of Mons. Romero. Because to “unblock” the process means that it was blocked, that it was frozen – but why was it blocked? It seems to me that the tardiness isn’t a simple question of administrative processes demanded and concretized by John Paul II in the Apostolic Constitution “Divinus Perfectionis Magister” (1983), but rather that the process was intentionally paralyzed, stalled – and why? By whom? Surely by those who “do not want a Church of and for the poor” in the style of Francis of Asisi, in the style of Oscar Romero, and, paradoxically, in the style of Jesus of Nazareth! (it seems that among those who blocked the process of canonization is the cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo (2008+), of all the paradoxes of the history of the Church!)
Generally, the canonization process has been slow in the last few centuries of the Church, but there have been exceptions, among the most recent that of John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and José María Escribá de Balaguer. Naturally, the questions continue – why weren’t these cases blocked? The answers are many, from many different points of view, and I won’t address them all here. I plant the questions, not with malice, but rather as an invitation to reflect upon them, to mature our faith and to “not be as mere children who drink their mother’s milk, incapable of judging properly” (cf Hebreos 5:1).
From another angle, I think that the Pope’s decision to nudge the beatification of Mons. Oscar Romero along takes into account the popular clamor and would make official that the people have already canonized this holy pastor, as it was in the first nine centuries. John Paul II lent his voice to this cry when he mentioned it for the Jubilee of the Martyrs (May 7, 2000); the Bishops’ Conference of El Salvador has put the case in to the Congregation for the Saints; other churches have joined in this recognition, in witnesses to this, the statue raised in Westminster Abbey in London; there are innumerable initiatives (communities, libraries, streets, universities, groups, artistic works…) that have been erected in his honor. Because of this, and in harmony with the ecclesial tradition of the first centuries, without wanting to contradict the current criteria of the hierarchical Church, together with Mons. Pedro Casaldáliga and many others, we honor Monseñor as “Saint Romero of America.” This popular process has been beautifully captured in the song “Proclaim Him A Saint” by the Salvadoran songwriting group “Excess Baggage” (see below). This is a deep yearning of our hearts, which we believe and hope will be taken into account officially by the current Pope.
Finally, warmly accepting the invitation from Pope Francis: “I ask of you a favor: before the Bishop blesses the people, I ask that you all pray that the Lord blesses me. The prayer of the people, asking for blessings, for their Bishop,” as a “Romero-ist” Salvadoran, I send to the Bishop of Rome, in the name of many people in my country, a grateful blessing for the gesture of having unblocked the cause for the beatification of our holy archbishop, Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Thank you, from the deepest part of our hearts! May God bless you abundantly!
And now, we start on this path: Bishop and people.
This path of the Church in Rome, which is the one that directs, in charity, all of the Churches.
It is a path of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.
We pray always for ourselves: for each other.
We pray for the whole world, so that there may be great fraternity.
(First Greeting of the Holy Father Francis. Central Balcony of the Vatican Basicila
Wednesday, March 13, 2013)
Love is to give oneself, love is to hand oneself over without reserve;
Love is to want without selfishness, love is not to exploit, rather, to serve, love is what religion teaches us.
To commune with the love that God had for the world in sending us his Son, that is grace.
May we love each other as God has loved us, this is the new command of the Christian law, and this is grace. That’s why, when we canonize or beatify a person, that is where we look: to his or her love.
Love is Holiness and the measure of Holiness.
If a person knows how to let go of himself or herself in order to love, he or she is holy;
If a person talks much about holiness but does not know how to love, he or she is not holy.
(Mons. Romero. Homily for the fifth Sunday of Easter,
May 13, 1979)
(Armando Márquez Ochoa has published 4 books: El Catecismo de Mons. Romero (2000); El Martirologio de Mons. Romero. Testimonio y catequesis martirial de la Iglesia salvadoreña (2005); No basta la justicia es necesario el amor. Compendio de la Catequesis Social de Mons. Romero (2007); La Palabra no está encadenada. La Palabra de Dios en la vida y catequesis de Mons. Romero (2010). He is currently writing: Me glorío de estar en medio de mi pueblo y de sentir con la Iglesia)