Thursday, November 20, 2014

Óscar Romero and “The Matrix”

Various arguments support the hypothesis that Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador died a martyr, killed by persecutors who carried out his murder in hatred of the faith.  In an earlier post, I posited that one could show Romero’s martyrdom by crediting Romero as a “martyr of charity” along the lines of St. Lawrence of Rome or St. Maximilian Kolbe; by recognizing that Romero was killed because of his assassins’ aversion to the tenets of the Social Doctrine of the Church; and as a violent rejection of Romero’s powerful final sermon on the primacy of the Law of God.  We also can discern hatred of the faith from the National Security Doctrine (NSD) to which Romero’s killers subscribed.
The subject is somewhat dense but the argument can be aptly illustrated by reference to the world of the popular “Matrix” movies.  In “The Matrix” universe, the façade of society is in fact a computer-generated reality enforced by humanoid “Agents” who target for elimination freedom fighters and computer viruses alike because both pose threats to “The Matrix.”  The Agents are computer programs who actually have no feelings or emotions, but they are written to identify—and swiftly eradicate—those seeking to escape the system and achieve self-determination.  Similarly, paramilitary death squads answering to NSD may not have any professed feelings of antithesis towards the Christian faith, but they were indoctrinated to automatically identify proponents of the social doctrine of the church for assassination.  Accordingly, enforcers of the NSD consistently and predictably persecuted Christians.  National Security Doctrine is, so to speak, an “app” for hatred of the faith.
NSD was developed in South America and pervaded such conflicts as the “Dirty War” in Argentina, and the internal conflicts in places like Chile, Brazil, Guatemala and El Salvador.  The Brazilian General Umberto Peregrino ticked off some of the principal components of NSD ideology to include: (1) the belief that the society is mired in a “total war” that permeates and underlies a particular society (even if, like in “The Matrix,” the surface appearance seems peaceful or normal); (2) a conviction that the military must take over the conduct of all national affairs until a solution is reached (like the “Agents” in “The Matrix”); and (3) the requirement that there be an “intransigent subordination of the basic activities of the nation to its security” (ie, individual freedom comes second—if at all) [Bruneau, The Church in Brazil: The Politics of Religion, 59.]  In its ultimate manifestation, NSD seeks to supplant religion as the ultimate absolute truth.  In the words of Gen. Golbery do Couto e Silva, the father of Brazilian NSD:
To be nationalist is to be always ready to give up any doctrine, any theory, any ideology, feelings, passions, ideals and values, as soon as they appear [to be] incompatible with the supreme loyalty, which is due to the nation above everything else.  Nationalism is, must be, and cannot be other than an Absolute One in itself.
[Comblin, The Church and the National Security State, 78.]  In his book, José Comblin states that National Security Doctrine offers a society that seems on the surface to be compatible with Christian principles.  Civil and military leaders co-opt religious language and symbolism in support of the nationalist project.  Additionally, they appeal to the religious sentiments of the population and the church by offering to grant or restore certain privileges to the church, such as the right to teach religion in public schools, to censor publications that defy certain church teachings, and to implement a moral code ostensibly based on Christian moral codes but which actually serves the state’s desire to closely regulate private behavior.  But the church recognizes the offer as a manipulative ploy that would subordinate Christian faith to NSD.  Comblin, 80-84.  Moreover, the church is forced into relatively unified and vigorous opposition, by brutalities and injustice of a scale and severity that leave it no alternative but to oppose NSD.
Accordingly, the Latin American bishops at Puebla denounced the manifestations of NSD throughout the continent: “In many instances the ideologies of National Security have helped to intensify the totalitarian or authoritarian character of governments based on the use of force, leading to the abuse of power and the violation of human rights. In some instances they presume to justify their positions with a subjective profession of Christian faith.”  [Puebla (1979) Doc. No. 49.]  For his part, Archbishop Romero condemned NSD as a new form of idolatry: “The omnipotence of these national security regimes, the total disrespect they display towards individuals and their rights, the total lack of ethical consideration shown in the means that are used to achieve their ends, turn national security into an idol, which, like the god Molech, demands the daily sacrifice of many victims in its name.” [4th Pastoral Letter, at p. 21.]
The scholarship regarding the existence and nature of NSD is well established; the Church has acknowledged it; and the extent to which NSD factored into the motives for assassinating Archbishop Romero has figured prominently in the analysis of «odium fidei» (hatred of the faith) in his beatification process.  The uncontroverted evidence—confirmed by a U.N. Truth Commission report, an OAS investigation, and the findings of a U.S. federal court—is that the Romero assassination was ordered by Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson.  In El Salvador, no one has personified the ideology of NSD more than D’Aubuisson.  Like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson claimed that a secret underworld lay concealed beneath the apparent reality, which could remain undetected even to those implicated in it.  The thing is, you can be a Communist without knowing you are a communist. You don’t have to know you are a Communist,” he was quoted as saying.  D’Aubuisson picked up such ideas at international conferences put on by NSD adherents in South America, including Chile and Argentina.
Also like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson targeted Christians for persecution.  Among his most frequent targets, apart from openly avowed Marxists (who were few and far between in El Salvador), were Christian Democrats, Jesuits, and adherents of Liberation Theology—all of whom are affiliated in some way with the Christian faith.  Influenced by the Bolivian dictator Gen. Hugo Banzer, D’Aubuisson’s White Warrior Union began a terror campaign in El Salvador that dropped leaflets with the ominous slogan, “Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest.”  The terror syndicate issued its infamous “War Order No. 6,” demanding that all Jesuits leave the country or face execution.  Romero’s friend Rutilio Grande was the first victim of the campaign.
Like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson believed that the reality of El Salvador was a deceitful hologram concealing a “total war” that was unknown even to its instigators, but obvious to him.  NSD singled out Christians as targets for elimination and provided the justification of a necessary purge.  In short, the NSD ideology effectuated hatred of the faith.

Mons. Romero y la “Matrix”


Varios argumentos apoyan la hipótesis de que Mons. Óscar A. Romero de El Salvador murió un mártir, asesinado por perseguidores que lo ultimaron por odio a la fe. En un post anterior, había propuesto que se puede mostrar el martirio acreditando a Mons. Romero como un “mártir de la caridad” tal como San Lorenzo de Roma o San Maximiliano Kolbe; mediante el reconocimiento de que fue asesinado a causa de la aversión de sus asesinos a los principios de la Doctrina Social de la Iglesia; y como un rechazo violento al contundente último sermón de Romero sobre la primacía de la Ley de Dios. También podemos discernir el odio de la fe desde la Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional (DSN) de cual los asesinos de Romero eran afines.
El tema es un poco denso, pero el argumento se puede ilustrar acertadamente por referencia al mundo de las populares películas “Matrix”. En el universo “Matrix”, la fachada de la sociedad es en realidad un espejismo generado por ordenador y patrullado por “Agentes” humanoides que se dedican a eliminar tanto los virus informáticos como los luchadores por la libertad porque ambos amenazan la matriz (o “Matrix”). Los agentes son programas de ordenador que en realidad no tienen sentimientos o emoción, sino que están escritos para identificar y erradicar rápidamente aquellos que buscan escapar del sistema y la auto-determinación. Del mismo modo, los escuadrones de la muerte que responden a la DSN pueden no profesar ningún sentimiento antitético a la fe cristiana, pero estaban adoctrinados para identificar automáticamente para el asesinato a los defensores de la doctrina social de la iglesia. En consecuencia,  los ejecutores de la DSN habitualmente y predeciblemente han perseguido a los cristianos. La Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional es, por así decirlo, una “app” para el odio de la fe.
La DSN fue desarrollada en América del Sur y ha figurado en conflictos tales como la “Guerra Sucia” en Argentina, y los conflictos internos en Chile, Brasil, Guatemala y El Salvador. El general brasileño Umberto Peregrino enumeró algunos de los componentes principales de la ideología de la DSN tal como: (1) la creencia de que la sociedad está sumida en una “guerra total” que impregna y subyace aquella sociedad particular (aunque, al igual que en “Matrix”, la apariencia superficial puede parecer tranquila o normal); (2) la convicción de que los militares deben llevar la conducta de todos los asuntos nacionales hasta que se alcance una solución (al igual que los “Agentes” en “Matrix”); y (3) la necesidad de tener una “subordinación intransigente de las actividades básicas de la nación a su seguridad” (es decir, la libertad individual viene en segundo lugar, si es que cuenta en total) [BRUNEAU, The Church in Brazil: The Politics of Religion, pág. 59 .] En su última finalidad, la DSN pretende suplantar la religión como verdad absoluta. En palabras del general Golbery do Couto e Silva, el padre de la DSN brasileña:
Ser nacionalista es estar siempre dispuesto a renunciar a cualquier doctrina, cualquier teoría, cualquier ideología, sentimientos, pasiones, ideales y valores, tan pronto como aparezcan [ser] incompatibles con la lealtad suprema, que se debe a la nación por encima de todo lo demás. El nacionalismo es, debe ser, y no puede ser otra cosa que un Absoluto en sí mismo.
[COMBLIN, The Church and the National Security State, 78.] En su libro, José Comblin afirma que la Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional ofrece una sociedad que parece a nivel de superficie ser compatible con los principios cristianos. Sus líderes civiles y militares adoptan el lenguaje y simbolismo religioso para respaldar al proyecto nacionalista. Además, apelan a los sentimientos religiosos de la población y de la iglesia ofreciendo conceder o restaurar ciertos privilegios a la iglesia, tal como el derecho a enseñar la religión en las escuelas públicas, a censurar publicaciones que desafían ciertas enseñanzas de la iglesia, y poner en práctica un código moral ostensiblemente basado en el código moral cristiano, pero que en realidad sirve el objetivo estatal de regular estrechamente la conducta privada. Pero la iglesia reconoce la oferta como una estratagema manipuladora para subordinar la fe cristiana a la DSN. COMBLIN, 80-84. Por otra parte, la iglesia se ve obligada a configurar una oposición relativamente unificada y vigorosa, debido a brutalidades e injusticias de escala y gravedad que no dejan otra alternativa que oponerse a la DSN.
Por ende, los obispos latinoamericanos en Puebla denunciaron las manifestaciones de DSN en todo el continente: “las ideologías de la seguridad nacional han contribuido a fortalecer, en muchas ocasiones, el carácter totalitario o autoritario de los regímenes de fuerza de donde se ha derivado el abuso del poder y la violación de los derechos humanos. En algunos casos pretende amparar sus actitudes con una subjetiva posesión de fe Cristiana”. [Puebla (1979) Doc. No. 49.] Por su parte, Mons. Romero condenó la DSN como una nueva forma de idolatría: “La omnipotencia de estos regímenes de seguridad nacional, el total desprecio hacia el individuo y sus derechos, la total falta de ética en los medios para lograr sus fines, hace que la seguridad nacional se convierta en un ídolo, parecido al dios Moloc, en cuyo nombre se sacrifican cotidianamente numerosas víctimas”. [Cuarta Carta Pastoral de Mons. Romero.]
Los estudios sobre la existencia y naturaleza de la DSN está bien establecidos; la Iglesia la reconoce; y el grado en que la DSN figura entre los motivos para asesinar a Mons. Romero ha sido parte importante del análisis del «odium fidei» (odio a la fe) en su proceso de beatificación. La evidencia incontrovertida—confirmada por un informe de la Comisión de la Verdad de las Naciones Unidas, una investigación de la OEA, y el fallo de un tribunal federal de Estados Unidos—establece que el asesinato de Mons. Romero fue ordenado por el Mayor Roberto D’Aubuisson.  En El Salvador, nadie ha personificado la ideología de la DSN más que D’Aubuisson. Al igual que los agentes de “Matrix”, D’Aubuisson creyó que un inframundo yacía oculto debajo de la realidad aparente, que podría no ser detectado incluso por los que estaban involucrados en él. “La cosa es que se puede ser comunista sin saber que es comunista. No hay necesidad de saber que es comunista”, se le ha citado decir. D’Aubuisson recogió esas ideas de conferencias internacionales organizadas por creyentes de la DSN en América del Sur, incluyendo en Chile y Argentina.
También al igual que los agentes de “Matrix”, D’Aubuisson señaló a los cristianos para la persecución. En sus blancos con mayor frecuencia, además de los Marxistas abiertamente declarados (que eran pocos e infrecuentes en El Salvador), estuvieron los democristianos, los jesuitas, y los partidarios de la Teología de Liberación—todos ellos afiliados de alguna manera con la fe cristiana. Influenciado por el dictador boliviano Gral. Hugo Banzer, la Unión Guerrero Blanco de D’Aubuisson lanzó una campaña de terror en El Salvador, repartiendo panfletos con el lema ominoso, “Haz Patria, Mata un Cura”. El sindicato terrorista emitió su infame “Orden de Guerra No. 6”, exigiendo que todos los jesuitas abandonaran el país a pena de ser ejecutados.  El amigo de Romero Rutilio Grande fue la primera víctima de esta vil campaña.
Al igual que los agentes de “Matrix”, D’Aubuisson creyó que la realidad de El Salvador era un holograma engañoso que ocultaba una “guerra total”, desconocida incluso a los que la instigaban, pero obvia para él. La DSN situó a los cristianos en los blancos para eliminación y siempre con la justificación de que era una purga necesaria. En pocas palabras, la ideología de la DSN efectúa el odio de la fe.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Abp. Romero beatification story retracted

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A world renowned Jesuit theologian claimed on Thursday that Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar A. Romero would be beatified next year.  But in further developments that day, a Salvadoran Church official identified with the canonization cause denied the information and the source has retracted the story.  The vicar of the San Salvador Archdiocese, Msgr. Rafael Urrutia, has stated that while the cause continues to progress satisfactorily, there is no official announcement and no definitive result to report from Rome or San Salvador.  He also said that the beatification could well occur in 2015.  The Church is simply not ready to say it yet.
The original news was reported by Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino, who said that Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas had told priests attending meeting of the clergy on Tuesday that “during his stay in Rome, Pope Francis communicated to him that Archbishop Romero will be beatified the coming year.”  (Escobar Alas was recently in Rome for the Synod on the Family.).  On the day of the clergy’s meeting, the San Salvador Archdiocese posted a message to its Twitter account calling on the faithful to keep praying for Romero’s beatification.  The “news” posted by Fr. Sobrino was picked by national and international media.

In an interview over local Jesuit radio, Fr. Sobrino has since admitted that he did not attend the meeting of the clergy where the Archbishop made the announcement, but got the information second hand from someone who conveyed incorrect information.  In particular, Fr. Sobrino clarified that Archbishop Escobar did not speak to Pope Francis but to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of the cause; and that the message conveyed was not that the beatification would definitely be in 2015 but that it would "possibly" be in 2015, which varies signaficantly from the facts he reported.

The news and retraction constitutes the second time this year that the a leaked beatification report regarding Romero turns out to be unfounded.  Earlier this year, there was fevered speculation that Archbishop Escobar was about to make a major announcement which also proved to be only hype.  Reading in between the lines this time, it appears that Archbishop Escobar made the announcement on Tuesday, but intended it to be confidential because the word from the Vatican was merely tentative.  That is, Urrutia confirmed that Escobar had made an announcement, did not deny that Escobar had received positive news in Rome, nor did the retraction come until the end of the day after the news had been broadly reported.  Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Francis has received the Nuncio to El Salvador in a private audience, which may be related to the reported developments.

Technically speaking, of course, Fr. Sobrino’s post had been in no way an official beatification announcement.  The process is still continuing in the Vatican, where theologians are reviewing a recently submitted «Positio Super Martyrio,» that lays out the case for Romero as saint.  Fr. Sobrino acknowledged that no date or other relevant details have been established.  The newsworthiness of the story stems solely from the high placed source--the Pope himself, though Fr. Sobrino has retracted that detail.

The fact that there have now been two misfires highlights the difficulty in interpreting and reporting news about such an arcane process.  Often, the news media do not understand how the beatification process works and therefore are unable to discern the details that should raise red flags in a purported beatification report.  It helps to keep in mind what a real beatification announcement looks like.  In the first place, the confirmation typically comes from Rome, from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, when the Prefect of the Congregation meets with the Pope and delivers a beatification decree for the Pope's approval.  Usually, the approval of the beatification is announced immediately after the meeting during which the Pope approves.  In high profile cases, the news could be leaked before the meeting with the Pope.  In such cases, what would be leaked is that the theologians and cardinals have given their approval and their report will be submitted to the Pope.  Typically, the source of such leaks is the postulator of the case.  In some instances, the local bishop of the diocese from which the saint comes may reveal news that he has received from the postulator.  Anything outside of those circles, and the circumstances just described, should be suspect. 

Here, the source of the leak was a respected Jesuit scholar, therefore the news was accorded some credibility.  However, people familiar with the Salvadoran Church politics would know that Fr. Sobrino has a bit of a reputation as a maverick and an activist.  It seems to be in his character to want to promote transparency by making public what he thought was an important piece of news.  Critics might say that Fr. Sobrino demonstrated insufficient deference to the hierarchy, including the two men who would normally claim the right to make the announcement--the Archbishop of San Salvador and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  In the case of the latter, the current Prefect, Cardinal Angelo Amato has a prior history with Fr. Sobrino.  Cardinal Amato was one of the Church officials who signed a 2006 Church reprimand of Fr. Sobrino regarding the orthodoxy of his scholarship.

In fact, Fr. Sobrino has an interesting history with respect to the canonization cause.  By his own admission, Fr. Sobrino has been seen as a bit of a drag on Archbishop Romero’s cause, because of Fr. Sobrino’s reputation as a theologian who works at the outer edges.  Sobrino worked with Romero and the scope of their collaboration was investigated by the Vatican in vetting Romero’s qualifications for the sainthood (the outcome of that investigation appears to have been positive).  Additionally, Sobrino has repeated expressed reservations about canonizing Romero on the theory that the Church will so throroughly “scrub” Romero to promote him as a holy man that they will promote an inaccurate and two-dimensional understanding of his figure.  Buried in his bungled announcement was Fr. Sobrino’s declaration that he now recognizes the value and validity of canonizing Romero.  “My fear that they will beatify a watered down Archbishop Romero has disappeared,” Sobrino said in his post.  “It is more difficult to manipulate him now.”

If it had been true, the beatification announcement would have capped a 33 year process of seeking Romero's beatification after he was shot down saying mass on March 24, 1980 in San Salvador.  His death is considered to mark the beginning of a 12 year civil war in his native country, pitting a right wing military defending a feudal oligarchy against Marxist insurgents seeking to topple decades of dictatorships.  Romero served three years as Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital city, becoming a vocal critic of military rule.  The political dimensions of his acts complicated the Church's analysis of whether Romero was killed in hatred of the faith (a requirement for martyrdom), as Romero's critics maintained that he was killed because of the political views he espoused.  In finding that his assassination qualifies as a martyrdom, the Church has concluded that the views for which Romero was killed constituted the approved social doctrine of the Church, which promotes social justice and a preferential option for the poor.

The authorization of Romero's beatification after years of stagnation would have owed largely to personnel changes at the Vatican.  The approval of Romero's cause early in the pontificate of Pope Francis would fulfill a top priority of Roman Catholicism's first Latin American pontiff, who was familiar with Romero and reportedly admired his example.  Before becoming Pope, Francis told Salvadoran clerics that if he were in St. Peter's throne, “the very first thing” he would do would be to order Romero's canonization to go forward.  With the announced approval, it seems Francis has carried out his promise.  But the fast-tracking of Romero was also facilitated by the arrival of Msgr. Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) half a year ahead of Francis.  Müller, a friend of Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, also admired Romero and had been to San Salvador for Romero commemorations.  Müller sped up the process of releasing the Romero file from the archives of the CDF, where it had been bureaucratically held up for several years.

Although Romero always figured as a high profile canonization cause, and was thought to be destined for fast-tracking, it ran afould of geopolitical considerations as well as internal Church politics.  It drew the involvement of three successive popes.  St. John Paul II, who was Pope when Romero was killed, believed that the archbishop died a martyr, but he asked Salvadoran Church authorities to hold-off on initiating the canonization process until such time as it could be assured of a positive reception.  In fact, the process was not started until the late pope signed off on the timing: even though the cause “did not sit well in some Vatican dicasteries ... John Paul II, personally and in spite of this, gave his approval,” says Sobrino, who knew Romero.  According to Sobrino, it was John Paul who gave the Romero sainthood drive the greatest boost when the Pope visited and knelt at Romero's grave during the Pontiff's war time visit to El Salvador in 1983.

Romero also received worldwide notoriety as a result of a Hollywood film, financed in part by the Catholic church, which portrayed his life.  “Romero” (1989) starred Raul Julia in the title role and portrayed the archbishop as a shy and quiet man who rises to the occasion when he discovers the grave situation of injustice that his countrymen were living in.  This becomes obvious to him after a priest he knows is killed.  Romero's canonization cause was announced the year after the film was released, although, due to the civil war, the movie not allowed to be shown in El Salvador for many years.  The first leg of the canonization cause, called the diocesan phase in canon law, went smoothly, wrapping up in two years.  In 1997, the Vatican accepted the documentation from the diocesan phase, recognizing it as valid.   Since 1998, the “Roman phase” of the process has been pending.   Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, a high ranking prelate, known for his diplomatic efforts and proximity to the Sant Egidio movement, was named the postulator of the cause by Pope John Paul II.   There was talk of a quick beatification for Romero.

However, Latin American cardinals though to include the Colombian Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, raised objections that twice derailed the canonization cause and sent it for a detour to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: first, for a study of the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error(2000-2005) and, subsequently, for a review of Romero's pastoral actions, reportedly also requested by the same cardinals.  While some were raising objections to proceeding to canonize Romero too quickly, there were visible efforts to keep the cause moving.  Most significantly, John Paul, who had asked for the process to be instituted, also insisted that Romero's name be inserted into a Year 2000 Jubilee ceremony at the Colosseum honoring 20th century martyrs.  The following year, Bishop Paglia, the postulator of Romero's cuase, held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to rehabilitate and promote the figure of Romero.

In 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints came very close to doing what it is doing today in authorizing Romero's beatification, but the process was short circuited by the second Latin American cardinals' objection and the unexpected death of Romero's great benefactor, Pope John Paul II.  Under the new pope, Benedict XVI, new beatifications slowed to a trickle and Romero's cause soon found itself in the back burner.  Benedict made it clear that he believed Romero's cause was worthy, and he met with Salvadoran president Antonio Saca, a former Romero altar boy, to discuss the cause's progress.  Two years later, Benedict spoke openly--and glowingly--about Romero during his first trip to Latin America.  “That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt,” Benedict told reporters aboard the Papal plane.  “Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly 'credible', a witness of faith.”

Although Benedict, of his own accord, cited Romero publically on two other occasions, his emphasis in recovering Europe's diminishing Christian identity appears to have focused pastoral energies on other projects.  The Pope himself stopped presiding over beatification ceremonies, delegating the task to the Prefect of the CDF, except for cases that fit his thematic priority, such as the beatification of English Cardinal John Henry Newman--and, of course, John Paul II.  Subsequently, the Romero beatification process stalled, apparently neglected by the competent authorities.   The Italian newspaper «La Stampa» would later refer to it as “the lost cause.”

The sea change brought about by the election of Pope Francis dramatically reorganized the priorities of the church in ways that were seen to favor Romero, beyond the obvious fact that the new Pope personally admires Romero and intervened to kick-start his beatification.  Where Pope Benedict wanted to focus on Europe, Pope Francis who came from Latin America, announced that he desired “a poor church for the poor,” which resonated with Romero's perfile.  Romero is the symbol of the Church that Pope Bergoglio wants to project to the geographical and existential peripheries,” Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo told «La Stampa.» And Cardinal Achille Silvestrini told the same outlet that “there is an [‘identity of thinking’] between the magisterium of Pope Bergoglio and the witness of faith offered by Romero to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice, which springs from a common origin in a Church such as a the Latin American Church, which has suffered and still suffers in order to maintain its fidelity to the message of Christ.”

Having outlived the Cold War and much of the power arrangements of that era, to pass through palace intrigues of clerical factions and the preferences of three modern popes, Archbishop Romero emerges like the phoenix to be redeemed by the Church process and the memory of El Salvador's humble peasantry, who hold him in such high esteem that some who had grown impatient with the Church's process had dismissively said it was enough that Romero had already been canonized by his countrymen.  As Romero himself warned those who would take his life, “If they kill me I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.”  And he shall rise to the altars, too.  Just not on the timeframe some would wish for.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Retreats: a “small cell” to meet with God

Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion is poignant because of its devastating description of the agony of the Lord as He was about to make His ultimate sacrifice.  His fleeting fancy, “If it is possible, let this cup pass” and subsequent, solemn affirmation, “If this cup cannot pass by me, but I must drink it, your will be done” (St. Matthew 26:42), is a powerful testament to Christ’s love for humanity and obedience to the will of God.  It is also an important illustration of the value of the spiritual retreat as a source of fortitude in Christian life.

Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador is said to have had his moment in the Garden during a spiritual retreat just weeks before his March 1980 assassination.  I want this retreat to join me more closely to His will,” Romero wrote in his notes for that retreat.  Romero was an enthusiastic advocate of spiritual retreats.  In everyone’s heart there is, as it were, a small intimate cell where God is able to speak with everyone individually,” he had preached to his flock upon taking up his ministry three years before.  If every one of us who are so concerned about so many different problems and situations were to enter this ‘small cell’ and from there listen to the voice of the Lord who speaks to us in our conscience, how much more would we be able to do to better our situation and the situation of our society and family,” he said.

Romero’s formulation of a “small cell” implies carving out space and time to dedicate to God.  It implies retreating from the hustle and bustle of life, from the drama and upheaval of a crisis, to listen to a quiet voice that whispers in the inner sanctum of our souls.  Thus, in a time of tribulation, even when your very life is in danger, it is important to step out of the moment and ruminate on the eternal emanations and implications of that particular instant.  The famous “Romero Prayer” (attributed, but not actually authored by Romero, though universally found to reflect his spirituality) expresses well the value of finding the calm in the middle of the storm: “It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view” because “we are the prophets of a future not our own.”

Romero began to carve out space and time to create his “small cell” for God during the time that he was in the seminary.  According to Damian Zynda in Archbishop Oscar Romero: A disciple Who Revealed the Glory of God (University of Scranton Press, 2010), Romero’s need to have a spiritual retreat during his seminary years turned him into a night owl.  He demonstrated a preference for the obscurity of the night and the silence of the chapel where he could be alone with the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.” ZYNDA, 80.  Romero created his little cell by seeking God while the world was sleeping: “The stillness of the night and the solitude of the chapel offered him a place to concentrate.”  Ibid.  A fellow seminarian penned an inspired ode describing the young Romero at prayer as, “A sweet nightingale singing in the quiescent night beneath the resplendent moon.”

During his priesthood, Romero became an avid practitioner of spiritual retreats and followed the Exercises of St. Ignatius as his retreat guide.  According to his biographer, “[n]otes that Romero later made during shorter retreats, some of them based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and repeating some of the key exercises, reveal that the Exercises continued to influence his spiritual journey.”  In fact, “[w]hen he became a bishop, he chose a phrase related to the Spiritual Exercises for his episcopal motto: ‘Sentir con la Iglesia,’ which means ‘to be of one mind with the church’.”  Romero implemented the practice of holding Lenten retreats for the clergy of his archdiocese, also intended to demonstrate his fidelity to the Roman Pontiffs, by emulating this practice of the Popes.

As Archbishop, Romero continued to value silence and solitude as a favored environment for prayer.  During his final Lenten sermons, Romero emphasized the point: “rather than preach I would prefer that we would sit in silence and remind ourselves that this passage is a summary of our own personal, individual lives,” he underscored in explicating one of the Sunday readings.  In words that redirect us to his nights in the seminary chapel, he urged, “My sisters and brothers, I invite all of you to read this passage in your homes or in a church or in some silent place and reflect on your own life.”  Even as archbishop, Romero continued his practice from youth of taking advantage of the quiet hours to retreat to prayer: “he would be very irritated if somebody interrupted him in the early morning hours while he was praying.”  Vincenzo Paglia, Óscar Romero, Un Obispo Entre Guerra Fría y Revolución (San Pablo Press, 2012), part I, ch. 5.

This is the spirit in which Romero went into his final retreat.  We know that Romero entered that retreat with a troubled heart.  I am afraid of violence to myself,” he confessed in his retreat notes.  I fear because of the weakness of my flesh, but I pray the Lord to give me serenity and perseverance.”  From his retreat notes, it appears that, at the end, he found the serenity he prayed for:

Eternal Lord of all things, I make my oblation with Thy favor and help before Thy infinite goodness and before Thy glorious Mother and all the saints of the heavenly court; that I want and desire and that it is my deliberate determination, only to be of greater service and praise to Thee, to imitate Thee in suffering all injuries, all blame and all poverty, be it material or spiritual, wishing to choose Thy most blessed majesty and to receive it in such life and condition. Thus do I express my consecration to the heart of Jesus, who was ever a source of inspiration and joy in my life.

Then he added.

Thus also I place under His loving providence all my life, and I accept with faith in Him my death, however hard it be.

Three weeks later, Archbishop Óscar Romero, in fact, was assassinated, cut down at the altar while celebrating Mass.  He became one of three bishops thus killed in the course of the Church’s history.  (As his former vicar general is fond of saying, “The first two [St. Stanislaus and St. Thomas Beckett] have been canonized. Perhaps one day, God willing, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized, also.”)

In the way he faced his death, as in the way he lived his life, Archbishop Romero preaches to us that if we make a “small cell” for God in our lives, we will have an oasis of solace during times of trial.

Friday, October 24, 2014

On poverty

Young Father Romero (third from left).
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 The poor are the incarnation of Christ,” Archbishop Óscar A. Romero wrote as a seminarian in 1941.  This month, the Archdiocese of San Salvador asks us to reflect on Romero’s youthful epiphany in preparation for the centennial of his birth in 2017. “Through their tattered clothing, their dark gazes, their festering sores, the laughter of the mentally ill, the charitable soul discovers and venerates Christ,” the young Romero wrote.  Pope Francis echoed the sentiment in his Lenten Message this year: “In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ.”

Together, Francis and Romero provide us a spiritual typology of poverty, helping us to understand why Christians should care about the poor.  Francis considers poverty as a subcategory of what he calls destitution.  Destitution is not the same as poverty,” writes the Pontiff.  Destitution takes three prominent forms: (1) spiritual destitution, (2) moral destitution, and (3) material destitution.  Material destitution is what is normally called poverty,” writes Francis, and is more or less the result of the other species of destitution, as spiritual destitution leads to moral destitution which leads to material destitution.

For this reason, Romero calls povertya divine accusation”—because, like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, it serves to point out an underlying corrupt condition; ultimately, what Francis calls “spiritual destitution.”  Romero: “The existence of poverty as a lack of what is necessary is an indictment ... a denunciation of the fact that there are poor people, that there are people who are hungry, that there are people who suffer ... why do these realities exist?

Spiritual destitution, writes Francis, is that “which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love” and “the Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution.”  Because spiritual destitution is the ultimate cause of material destitution (poverty), the Gospel is also the real antidote to material destitution or poverty.  Herein lies the connection between material poverty in the world, and the Church’s concern, which is otherworldly. 

Romero: “Jesus comes into the midst of this situation not with weapons or with some political revolutionary movement but rather presents a doctrine that encompasses the great liberation from sin, a doctrine that promises eternal life.”  And Francis: “wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life.”  To improve the lot of the poor, we have to root out sin.

Because poverty is material destitution, we arrest it by assuming spiritual poverty which constitutes not destitution, but the quintessential Christian virtue.  This poverty is “a commitment” and a veritable “spirituality,” Romero tells us—a commitment to stand by the poor, and a spirituality because we choose godliness over worldly, material wealth.

The Christian who does not want to live this commitment of solidarity with the poor,” Romero admonishes, “is not worthy to be called Christian.”

De la pobreza

El joven padre Romero (tercero de la izquierda).
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Los pobres son la encarnación de Cristo”, escribió Mons. Óscar A. Romero cuando era un seminarista en 1941. Este mes, la Arquidiócesis de San Salvador nos pide reflexionar sobre esta epifanía juvenil de Romero, en preparación para el centenario de su nacimiento en el 2017.  A través de los andrajos, de los ojos oscuros, de la hediondez de las llagas, de las risas de los trastornados, el alma caritativa descubre y adora a Cristo”, escribió el joven Romero. El Papa Francisco dijo lo mismo en su Mensaje de Cuaresma de este año: “En los pobres y en los últimos vemos el rostro de Cristo; amando y ayudando a los pobres amamos y servimos a Cristo”.
Juntos, Francisco y Romero nos elaboran una tipología espiritual de la pobreza, que nos ayuda a entender por qué los cristianos debemos preocuparnos por los pobres. Francisco considera la pobreza como una subcategoría de lo que él llama la miseria. “La miseria no coincide con la  pobreza”, escribe el Pontífice. La miseria tiene tres formas importantes: (1) la miseria espiritual, (2) la miseria moral, y (3) la miseria material. “La miseria material es la que habitualmente llamamos pobreza”, escribe Francisco, y es más o menos el resultado de las otras especies de miseria, ya que la miseria espiritual lleva a la miseria moral que conduce a la miseria material.
Por esta razón, Romero llama a la pobrezauna denuncia divina”, porque, al igual que el proverbial canario muerto en la mina de carbón, nos sirve para señalarnos una condición subyacente de corrupción; lo que Francisco llama “la miseria espiritual.” Dice Romero: “La existencia, pues, de la pobreza como carencia de lo necesario, es una denuncia ... [una] denuncia [del] por qué hay pobres, por qué hay gente que tiene hambre, por qué hay gente que sufre ...  ¿por qué existen?
La miseria espiritual, escribe Francisco, es lo “que nos golpea cuando nos alejamos de Dios y rechazamos su amor” y “el Evangelio es el verdadero antídoto contra la miseria espiritual”. Porque la miseria espiritual es la causa última de la miseria material (de la pobreza), el Evangelio es también el verdadero antídoto contra la miseria material o la pobreza. En esto radica la conexión entre la pobreza material en el mundo, y la preocupación de la Iglesia, que es de otro mundo.
Romero: “Jesucristo no se presenta con armas ni con movimientos revolucionarios políticos, aunque da una doctrina para que todas las revoluciones de la tierra se encajen en la gran liberación del pecado y de la vida eterna”. Y Francisco: “en cada ambiente el cristiano está llamado a llevar el anuncio liberador de que existe el perdón del mal cometido, que Dios es más grande que nuestro pecado y nos ama gratuitamente, siempre, y que estamos hechos para la comunión y para la vida eterna”. Para mejorar la situación de los pobres, tenemos que acabar con el pecado.
Dado que la pobreza es miseria material, la frenamos asumiendo la pobreza espiritual que no constituye una miseria, sino la virtud cristiana por excelencia. Esta pobreza es “un compromiso” y una verdadera “espiritualidad”, nos dice Romero —un compromiso de apoyo a los pobres, y una espiritualidad porque elegimos las cosas de Dios sobre lo que es mundano y la riqueza material.
El cristiano que no quiere vivir este compromiso de solidaridad con el pobre”, sentencia Romero, “no es digno de llamarse cristiano”.

Sulla povertà

Il giovane padre Romero (terzo da sinistra).
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I poveri sono l’incarnazione di Cristo”, ha scritto Mons. Oscar A. Romero quando era seminarista nel 1941. Questo mese, l’Arcidiocesi di San Salvador ci chiede di riflettere su questa epifania giovanile di Romero, in preparazione per il centenario della sua nascita nel 2017. “Attraverso gli brandelli, occhi scuri, la puzza delle piaghe, le risate dei malati di mente, l’anima gentile scopre e adora Cristo”, ha scritto il giovane Romero. Papa Francesco ha detto lo stesso nel suo Messaggio per la Quaresima di quest’anno: “Nei poveri e negli ultimi noi vediamo il volto di Cristo; amando e aiutando i poveri amiamo e serviamo Cristo”.

Insieme, Francesco e Romero ci preparano una tipologia spirituale della povertà che ci aiuta a capire perché i cristiani dovrebbero preoccuparsi dei poveri. Francesco considera la povertà come una sottocategoria di ciò che egli chiama la miseria. “La miseria non coincide con la povertà”, scrive il Pontefice. La miseria assume tre forme importanti: (1) la miseria spirituale, (2) la miseria morale, e (3) la miseria materiale. “La miseria materiale è quella che comunemente viene chiamata povertà” scrive Francesco, ed è più o meno il risultato delle altre specie di miseria, perche la miseria spirituale conduce alla miseria morale che conduce alla miseria materiale.

Per questo motivo, Romero la povertà chiama “un’accusa divino”, perché, come il canarino proverbiale morto nella miniera di carbone, serve a sottolineare una condizione di base di corruzione; ciò che Francesco chiama “miseria spirituale. Dice Romero: “L’esistenza della povertà come mancanza di ciò che è necessario, è un’accusa ... un’accusa del fatto che ci sono persone povere, che ci sono persone che hanno fame, che ci sono persone che soffrono ... perché esistono?

La miseria spirituale, scrive Francesco, “ci colpisce quando ci allontaniamo da Dio e rifiutiamo il suo amore” e “il Vangelo è il vero antidoto contro la miseria spirituale”. Perché la miseria spirituale è la causa ultima della miseria materiale (povertà), il Vangelo è il vero antidoto alla miseria materiale e la povertà. Qui sta il collegamento tra la povertà materiale nel mondo, e la preoccupazione della Chiesa, che è da un altro mondo.

Romero: “Gesù viene in mezzo a questa situazione non con le armi o con qualche movimento rivoluzionario politico, ma piuttosto presenta una dottrina che abbraccia la grande liberazione dal peccato, una dottrina che promette la vita eterna”. E Francesco: “il cristiano è chiamato a portare in ogni ambiente l’annuncio liberante che esiste il perdono del male commesso, che Dio è più grande del nostro peccato e ci ama gratuitamente, sempre, e che siamo fatti per la comunione e per la vita eterna”. Per migliorare la situazione dei poveri, dobbiamo finire il peccato.

Perché la povertà è la miseria materiale, arrestiamo questa povertà assumendo la povertà spirituale che non costituisce miseria, ma la virtù cristiana per eccellenza. Questa povertà è “un compromesso” e una vera “spiritualità”, dice Romero—un compromesso a sostenere i poveri, e una spiritualità perché abbiamo scelto le cose di Dio, sopra la ricchezza materiale e la mondanità.

Il cristiano che non vuole vivere questo impegno di solidarietà con i poveri” ammonisce Romero, “non è degno di essere chiamato cristiano”.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Montini’s Embrace

The last time Archbishop Óscar A. Romero met with the newly Blessed Paul VI, the weary Pontiff’s words were a balm to the suffering Salvadoran martyr:

I understand your difficult work. It is a work that can be misunderstood … I already know that not everyone thinks like you do … Nevertheless, proceed with courage, with patience, with strength, with hope ...

It was June 21, 1978 and Pope Paul would be dead within two months: on August 6, 1978, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Salvadoran patronal celebration, as Romero was happy to remember.  The Pope stretched out his hands with the warmth and the strength of one who supports all the Pastors and the whole Universal Church,” Romero told his flock. Paul’s consolation, Romero wrote in his Diary, “gave me the satisfaction of a confirmation of my faith, of my service, of my joy in working and suffering with Christ, for the Church and for our people.”

Montini's photo on top of Romero's bedside dresser.

Two years later, Romero would be dead also, but could things have been different?  Msgr. Orlando Cabrera, the Bishop of Santiago de Maria in El Salvador, where Romero had been bishop, posits that if Paul had lived, he would have raised Romero to the College of Cardinals, perhaps forcing a different outcome ...

El Espaldarazo de Montini


La última vez que Mons. Óscar A. Romero se reunió con el nuevo Beato Pablo VI, las palabras del hastiado pontífice fueron un bálsamo para el sufriente mártir salvadoreño:

Comprendo su difícil trabajo. Es un trabajo que puede ser no comprendido ... Ya sé que no todos piensan como usted ... sin embargo, proceda con ánimo, con paciencia, con fuerza, con esperanza ...

Era el 21 de junio de 1978 y el Papa Pablo estaría muerto dentro de dos meses: el 6 de agosto de 1978, la Fiesta de la Transfiguración, la celebración nacional de El Salvador, como Mons. Romero gustaba recordarlo.  Estrechándome las manos con un cariño y una fortaleza de quien se siente sostén de todos los Pastores y de toda la Iglesia Universal”, fue como Romero recordó la acogida del papa. La consolación del papa, dijo Romero en su Diario, “me dejó la satisfacción de una confirmación en mi fe, en mi servicio, en mi alegría de trabajar y de sufrir con Cristo, por la Iglesia y por nuestro pueblo”.

La foto de Montini en el cuartito de Romero.

Dos años después, Romero también estaría muerto, pero ¿podrían haber sido distintas las cosas?  Mons. Orlando Cabrera, obispo de Santiago de Maria, donde Romero fue obispo, seimagina que si Pablo hubiera sobrevivido, habría elevado Romero al Colegio de Cardenales, talvez forzando así un resultado diferente ...

L’abbraccio di Montini

L’ultima volta che Mons. Oscar A. Romero incontrato con il presto beato Paolo VI, le parole del stanco Pontefice fosse un balsamo per il sofferente martire salvadoregno:  

Capisco il vostro difficile lavoro. E ‘un lavoro che può essere frainteso ... so già che non tutti pensano come lei ... Tuttavia, proceda con coraggio, con pazienza, con forza, con speranza ...  

Era 21 giugno 1978 e Papa Paolo sarebbe morto entro due mesi: il 6 agosto 1978, festa della Trasfigurazione, la festa patronale salvadoregna, come Romero era felice di ricordare. “Stringendo le mani con  con il calore e la forza di chi supporta tutti i Pastori e tutta la Chiesa universale”, è come Romero ha descritto l'accoglienza dal Pontefice. La consolazione di Paolo, Romero scrisse nel suo diario, “mi ha dato la soddisfazione di una conferma della mia fede, del mio servizio, della mia gioia a lavorare e soffrire con Cristo, per la Chiesa e per il nostro popolo”.

La foto di Montini nel comodino di Romero.

Due anni più tardi, Romero sarebbe morto anche, ma le cose potrebbero essere diverse? Mons. Orlando Cabrera, vescovo di Santiago de Maria in El Salvador, dove Romero era stato vescovo, postula che, se Paolo fosse vissuto, avrebbe sollevato Romero al Collegio dei Cardinali, forse forzando un diverso risultato ...