This article by Helen Teague first appeared on ICN
More than 100 people cheered the recent news that Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador is to be made a saint at an ecumenical service on Saturday to commemorate the 38th anniversary of his martyrdom. The service was held at St Martin in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, and the cheering was led by Revd Richard Carter of St Martin in the Fields who presided. Sitting at the front was Julian Filochowski, Chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, who has lobbied tirelessly for the canonisation. The congregation included representatives of CAFOD, Pax Christi, Christian Aid, Jesuits, Columbans, Servite Sisters and the National Justice and Peace Network. Also, homeless people who always receive a warm welcome at St. Martin’s – very necessary with Saturday’s blizzard conditions outside.
The theme of the service was ‘Peace – the product of Justice and Love’. The speaker was Rubén Zamora, a distinguished Salvadoran diplomat and passionate advocate for peace. His brother, the Attorney General Mario Zamora, was assassinated by a death squad in February 1980, a month before Romero. Zamora has been El Salvador’s permanent representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to the United States and to India. He is currently based in El Salvador as an advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Zamora knew Archbishop Romero and was perfectly placed to examine the social conflict and violence in El Salvador in the light of Romero’s approach to endemic violence. His talk received a warm clap at the end.
Zamora highlighted that Romero contrasted the injustice and violence in El Salvador with the God of the Gospel. Romero was “a prophet of peace and justice” in the context of “very few prophet bishops” and at a time when El Salvador was in crisis, on a path to civil war and with death squad activity rampant. Zamora was delighted that Romero is soon to be canonised, “but he will not be reduced to a plaster saint”. He reflected that, “his way of being Christian is the right one” and canonisation will confirm that. Zamora felt that with today’s world in crisis, with a lack of justice and peace and lack of respect for human rights and for “mother Earth”, Romero’s challenge to us to build “sustainable peace” is relevant today.
This issue of relevance today was picked by Revd Richard Carter Pat Gaffney at the conclusion of the service. Revd Carter spoke of the “inseparable bond between people of faith and people who are poor and abandoned”. He pointed out that “the poverty of our own nation is all around us here in Trafalgar Square as we see homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers come into our church on a daily basis”. He underlined that the “Gospel of hope” which Archbishop Romero stood for “is more needed than ever before and reflected that “we continue to celebrate Romero’s voice speaking out on social justice”.
Clare Dixon of CAFOD, who recently received an award from the Jesuit University in San Salvador for her commitment and support of the people of El Salvador, read an extract from a Romero homily where he said, “we cannot segregate God’s word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed”. Barbara Kentish read another extract where Romero spoke about peace being “the calm and generous contribution of all people towards the common good”.
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi, read the Jubilee reading from Isaiah 58. Bidding prayers were read by David Skidmore of the Romero Trust and Christine Allen of Christian Aid. Stirring Justice and Peace hymns were sung throughout, led by Chris Olding of Wheatsheaf Music. These included ‘In the land’ by Bernadette Farrell’, ‘God you raise up true disciples’ by Chris Olding and ‘The God of Liberation’ by Patrick Lee.
On Saturday 24 March, the actual 38th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s martyrdom, there will be a special Mass in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, at 12.30pm, celebrated by Archbishop Peter Smith at which Bishop John Rawsthorne will preach.
Romero was assassinated by a right-wing death squad on 24 March 1980 while saying Mass. It happened one day after he gave a sermon calling on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop blindly following orders to kill and massacre fellow campesinos. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot as he concluded his homily and moved to begin the Offertory. At the time, El Salvador was on the verge of civil war. This was stoked by gross violations of human rights and huge and growing inequalities between a small and wealthy elite, backed by the army, and the overwhelming majority of the population.
For the full speech of Rubén Zamora and details of events for Romero Week 2018 see:
http://www.romerotrust.org.uk and www.romerotrust.org.uk/literature/anniversary-homilies-talks