Monday, May 25, 2015

Going home with hope

God encourages those who are losing hope…
Sirach 17:20

I’ve been in El Salvador for the last five days, visiting friends and participating in the vigil and the beatification Mass of Monseñor Romero.

I am ready to go home – and to go home with hope.

I spent the evenings in Suchitoto at the Centro Arte para la Paz, a center founded and run by Sister Peggy O’Neill that seeks to promote the arts – especially music, dance, and painting –  as well as training in computers and violence alternative programs as ways to promote peace amidst the violence and poverty that plague the region.

 This week it was great to see music groups practicing, kids deepening their dance skills with some Julliard students here, working on computers. The center is doing a lot and has hopes to do more, especially in response to the challenges of violence.

I also got to see folks in Suchitoto and the countryside whom I know from my time here in 1992. It was great to see them - especially four generations of the Clavel family. I met the great grandfather - blind and 98 years old, and his blind wife, Edelmira, six of the kids, and many of the grand kids. I even got to see the fourteen year old whom I had held in my arms when he was hours old during a visit many years ago.

Getting soaked in the rain for the vigil on Friday night dim not dim my joy at being there and hearing spirited singing of the hymns of Romero, the martyrs, and the faith that seeks liberation. The sharing of umbrellas and tarps was a great witness of the solidarity that Romero inspires. Later I found out that for some the rain was seen as a blessing of God, commemorating Romero, since there has been little rain in May – when the rainy season usually begins.

Sharing the Mass of beatification with friends was a great joy, sitting alongside women religious who have been giving their lives for the poor – some in Chile, some in El Salvador, and some in Honduras.

Another joy was seeing and hearing the young people singing the songs with a lot of energy. I later found that in some schools the songs are taught as part of the curriculum, to remember the martyrs and the struggles of the people.

It was good, but I am anxious to return home since there is where I feel God continuing to call me, to accompany the people, to share the Good News of Jesus Servant and Liberator, and to help all of us be people of hope.

It’s a temptation to stay in El Salvador – but I am called to be where I see more poverty, less hope, and less solidarity.

And so I go home - with hope.


Photos can be found here.

Other blog entries on my experience of the beatification include:

Which Romero?

Don’t call me a saint;
I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.
Dorothy Day

In February, shortly after Pope Francis authorized the beatification of Archbishop Romero, the Catholic News Agency presented an interview with Monsignor Jesús Delgado, who knew Romero and wrote a semi-official biography. In part it read:

Archbishop Romero “knew nothing about Liberation Theology, he did not want to know about it. He adhered faithfully to the Catholic Church and to above all to the teachings of the Popes.”

His theology was focused on the presence of God among the poor, “which we could describe like this: ‘God present and living with the poor and walking with the poor’,” Msgr. Delgado said.

I will leave an examination of this charge to others. Michael Lee has an article on this in an upcoming book from Orbis Books, but it is available here in Spanish.

When I read this I felt that Dorothy Day’s warning was coming true. Blessed Oscar would be sanitized, a sort of "Romero Lite." He would be invoked in prayer; his relics would be venerated; candles would be lit in his honor. But his radical message of a church that lives out the resurrection of a poor Christ would be pushed to the sidelines.

Would these words of his November 13, 1977, homily be ever heard?

Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?
Here is the touchstone:
Whom do you get along with?
Who are those who criticize you?
Who are those who do not accept you?
Who are those who flatter you?
Know from that what Christ said once:
“I have come not to bring peace, but division.”
There will be division even in the same family,
because some want to live more comfortably
by the world’s principles,
those of power and money.
But others have embraced the call of Christ
and must reject all that cannot be just in the world.

This concerned me. 

When I heard of all the preparations for the event I wondered if the church would present a homogenized Romero.

The tension between a Romero who is "acceptable" to all and a Romero who is really Good News to the poor was present in the two days of celebration I attended. But I believe that the Romero of the poor rose up in the voices and hearts of the poor and those in solidarity with them.

The Vigil presented, for the most part, a Romero who was truly in solidarity with the poor.  It reflected his vision of Jesus:
“Christ appeared…with the signs of liberation: shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope. And this is what God is doing now in history.”
Even though a prominent cardinal praised Romero and his commitment to the poor, he referred to both Romero and his successor Monsenõr Rivera y Damas as “prudent.” 

This was in contrast to the chant later that evening, led by a prominent Jesuit that invoked Romero as courageous:
Romero valientecontigo está tu gente.Courageous Romero,Your people is with us.
Yet almost all the hymns of the Mass were from the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan campesino Masses. The opening hymn was from the Nicaraguan Mass: Vos sos el Dios de los pobres: You are the God of the poor.

The hymn places Jesus in the daily lives of the people, He is invoked as a worker, who sweats and struggles with the people. Jesus’ identification with the poor is complete:
I have seen you in the corner store,… selling lottery tickets, checking car tires in a gas station…with leather gloves and overalls.
The hymns and songs of the evening celebrated a Christ and a Romero – as well as the martyrs of El Salvador and Guatemala –risking their lives for the poor.

The Mass of beatification was a little more subdued, but not as traditionalist as some had feared.

Before the Mass there were presentations on Romero as pastor, prophet, and martyr.  These were fairly good and included a sense of Romero’s commitment to the poor.

The Mass began, surprisingly, with the opening song of the Salvador Popular Mass, Vamos todos al banquete.

We are all going to the banquet
to the table of Creation;
everybody on a stool
with a place and a mission.

I get up very early:
the Community is waiting for me.
I go up to the Cathedral with joy,
searching for friendship.

God invites all the poor
to the common table of faith,
where there are no hoarders
and all have more than tortillas.

But the third verse was omitted:
God commands us to make of this world
a table where there is no inequality,
working and struggling together,
sharing our property.
That would be too much for some – especially some dignitaries and government officials.

Cardinal Angelo Amato who came in the name of the Pope spoke strongly of Romero’s witness and mentioned the witness of other American saints. He also noted “Heaven ought to begin here [on earth].”

Yet the Romero of the poor was especially present in the poor who remembered him and whom he defended and loved. And for many the rainbow ring around the sun that came at the almost the exact moment when Romero’s image was unveiled as a sign that the heavens also rejoiced at this remembrance of one who loved the poor.

Today at Mass in Suchitoto I saw a woman I’ve known since I was here in 1992. She experienced the repression of the 1970s, the war of the early 1980s, and lives in one of the first repopulated communities here. I asked her if she ever met Romero. She told me that he came for the parish feast day and stood at the door greeting people as he left. She had shaken his hand.

She then recalled how a relative had a large scratch on her chin. Romero gently touched it and asked how she was.

The poor remember Romero’s gentle love for the poor, his strong advocacy of the repressed, his love of the poor Christ.

That Romero was present.

May his memory renew the Church, the nations of Central America, and ourselves so that we may begin to witness to the Reign of God, a Reign of justice, love, and peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Holy Spirit and Romero

Veni, Pater Pauperum…

Come, Father of the Poor…
Sequence for Pentecost Sunday

Some might be surprised that the Pentecost sequence invokes the Holy Spirit as Father of the Poor.

How can this be?

The Spirit is the Comforter – and comforts the poor in their sorrows and pain.

The Spirit is the advocate, the Paraclete – who advocates for the poor in the face of injustice.

The Spirit gives the People of God the gift of Courage – so that the poor and their advocates witness to the justice of the Reign of God.

The Spirit is the force of Initiative in the lives of God’s people, renewing the Church – so that the Church be truly “a poor Church and a Church for the Poor,” as Pope Francis as said.

The Spirit is continually be poured on the People of God, the Church, so that it may live the mission of Jesus, to be Good News for the Poor.

But I was surprised yesterday when the Pope’s Apostolic Letter announcing the beatification of the martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero called him “Pater pauperum,” “Father of the Poor.”

Romero who lived the Spirit of Jesus shows us how the Spirit walks on earth.

Romero was a comforter of the poor, accompanying those who family members were killed or disappeared.

Romero was an advocate for the poor, the voice of the voiceless, speaking out often, especially in his Sunday homilies, to denounce the injustice being done to the poor.

Romero gave people courage by his words and by his presence, as well as by listening to those whom the powers held in contempt – the poor, those struggling for justice.

Romero was a force that renewed the Church of El Salvador in his time – and that hopefully will renew the Church today, opening us up to the initiatives of the Reign of God.

Romero witnessed to the mission of Christ, especially by his option for the poor and marginalized, in the name of Christ.

With Romero, the Spirit of Jesus breathes among us.

A friend of mine, Jaime Vidal, in a reply on a Facebook post, reminded me that the Pentecost sequence includes much that shows us how the Spirit breathes among us and how Romero showed us we can let the Spirit blow through us. the point we let the Spirit into us, we become what He is -- pater pauperum [father of the poor], consolator optime [the best comforter], in fletu solatium [solace in the midst of tears]... and we flecte quod est rigidum [bend what is rigid], fove quod est frigidum [fire up what is cold], rege quod est devium [correct what goes off course]… May [Romero’s] glorification on the feast lead many more to open their hearts wide and let that same Spirit in, and become like Oscar, and one with the Spirit.
I can think of no better prayer today than this

Holy Spirit, make us one with you
as you are one with the blessed martyr Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

This post can also be found on Walk the Way.