What a wonderful 3 day event it was as we attended Monsignor Romero’s Beatification. If you are not familiar with Monsignor Romero you can read a brief history here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93scar_Romero.
First I want to thank The CIS (Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad) an NGO that has been serving the Salvadoran people for over 20 years. The CIS provides language schools, water filter programs, student scholarship programs, women’s empowerment training and a host of other seminars and trainings. All of this work done with community development of the communities involved. To learn more about them you can go here http://cis-elsalvador.org/index.php/en/.
CIS gave us an opportunity to join a small delegation they had put together for the beatification. We attended events Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the beatification weekend. Everything was well planned and orchestrated and enhanced our experience. Our new friends were Jean from Missouri, Jill from Wisconsin, Laurie from Florida, Karen from California and Susan from California, Leslie Schuld the Director of CIS attended various parts of CIS/Beatification events and Zulma an employee of CIS who coordinates events for incoming delegations and she’s also a very good translator
For Dianne and I to attend this beatification was just a momentous occasion. We’ve been involved with El Salvador for over 7 years now and Monsignor Romero’s story is as moving now as the 1st time we heard it. His beatification is the fulfillment of many prayers of the Salvadoran people and people of all countries who know his humble but strong message that we cannot stand by and watch the marginalized Salvadoran people be exploited and killed by their government and the rich and powerful who controlled the government.
As with almost every story I know about in El Salvador, his martyrdom story and the long wait for his beatification is very complicated. I would rather not dwell on the history at this time so I can share with you our experience.
On Thursday night we attended a Theatrical presentation of Romero’s life at the FESPAD auditorium in Santa Tecla. It was put on by college students. It consisted of still photos and short documentary clips on a large screen while various members of the group sang, danced and portrayed situations of that time. The situations consisted of soldier harassment of the people and finally the murder of Romero himself. It was extremely well done and compelling. What a fantastic way to start the beatification journey with our group from CIS.
On Friday we went to Bishop Romero’s Chapel where he was martyred, Divina Providencia and we also visited his house that was also on the grounds. The house is very small and simple. He chose this house over the more palatial home reserved for the Bishop of El Salvador as a symbol of his humility before God and the poor people of San Salvador. I have to admit that although Dianne and I have visited these hallowed grounds many times I can’t help but become misty eyed when I think of his utmost sacrifice for his love of the poor and his faith in Jesus’s message to care for the least of these in this country. He didn’t just believe in Jesus’s message he died for that message.
The highlight of that day was attending the march to the Vigilia (Vigil) that night and attending a portion of it. The march started at The San Salvador Cathedral next to the National Palace. It was a fitting place to start because it was in this place that during the funeral of Bishop Romero government troops open fired on the thousands of people who attending the funeral killing over 50 and injuring many more. Their only crime was attending the funeral of someone the government and wealthy families of the oligarchy dearly hated. The March ended at Salvador del Mundo about 3 miles away.
So we arrived at about 4 PM for the 5 PM starting time and just took in the sights and sounds. It was a mass of humanity all full of alegria (happiness). There were many youth groups carrying banners, church groups and many others. Spontaneous singing would erupt, then we would hear “Dame un ere” (give me and R) we would spell out Romero's name and then shout it out with the people. Then the March started just as the rains came but this wasn’t just rain, this was pouring rain. The rain did not dampen (excuse the pun) the spirits of the crowd. Trucks blared religious music, people shouted and laughed as we marched as a soaking wet throng of believers who wouldn’t trade this opportunity for a moment. Dianne pointed out that it was truly a crowd of Romero’s people. The poor and marginalized of El Salvador giving Romero Alabanzas (praises).
We want to share with you a touching story of Zulma. She was the coordinator of the group and her mother attended the March with us. Zulma and her mother stayed the entire night at the vigilia so her mother could be part of the entire event and have a good spot at the beatification the next day. It was pouring but they had no intention of leaving. It was moving to see how they shrugged off the weather as it truly meant nothing for them because they were so happy to be here.
The next day was the beatification and we arrived at Salvador del Mundo at around 6:30AM for the 10 AM Mass. The streets were already getting full as we moved forward with the rest of the “great unwashed” to get as close to the stage as possible. The streets were full of food vendors and sellers of every imaginable tchotchke of Romero. Romero’s face emblazoned a million different buttons, hats, balloons, T-shirts and flags. There was even a Romero on a stick whose arms and legs moved when you pulled a string. It was part Carnival, street fair, food court, and I almost forgot a Beatification Mass.
105 Bishops attended, over 1,000 priests and numerous dignitaries from other countries such as the President and VP of Bolivia and other Central and South America Countries. Then there were the estimated 200 to 300 thousand Salvadorans. Communities and Church groups from around the country took buses to the beatification. There sacrifice to attend the event reminded me of Zulma and her mothers. The people who took the buses in some cases had the busses park over 7 miles away and then they had to walk to the Mass. Let me assure you there were more busses than we could count when we left and drove out of the city we saw bus, after bus, after bus. It was incredible.
We ended up a little more than a hundred yards from the stage and at first the crowd didn’t seem too bad. Then waves of people came and more waves came crashing in. Now I love my people in El Salvador but they have honed their skills at pushing and shoving to get on and off the busses their entire lives. They used those skills to get closer to the stage. At one point we could barely move our arms and shifting from foot to foot was the only way to get some relief from constant standing in the sun with no shade. But the people kept coming. Yes, I know it sounds like an uncomfortable situation and at times, it was. That said, the crowd was alive and we were part of it. We sang “Que alegria cuando me dijieron vamos a la casa del senor” – What a joy when they said, we are going to the house of the lord. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaKw7vAH5OA. We also sang Demos gracias al Senor- Let us give thanks to the Lord https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCCKAwCbW5U. It was spiritually staggering to sing those songs with thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We had Salvadorans in the crowd come up to us and thank us for sharing this amazing event with them. As we sang I noticed a few of my Salvadoran brothers and sisters in Christ look at us with that “hey those gringo’s can belt out our tunes” looks on their faces and they smiled at me and Dianne and nodded at us in acceptance. Just remembering these moments make me misty right now (being a missionary has made me so emotional).
We also witnessed what we and many others believed was a miraculous event. During all of this all of a sudden people started looking to the sky and a rainbow had appeared in a halo type pattern. It was as if God was giving us a sign of his personal blessing on this day.
The Beatification ended at around 1:30 and we all started to disperse. It was a strange feeling as sometimes you are part of something that you think is a remarkable happening but it ends up being uneventful, it doesn’t meet the built up expectations. But I guarantee you this exceeded all expectations. The unity we felt can’t be described. We were emotionally, spiritually and physically drained but very aware of what we just participated in.
The Beatification is finally a small sliver of reconciliation for the poor of this country who were so devastated by the war and I will not lie, they still suffer very much if not more right now than they did during the war. This doesn’t mean Romero died for nothing; this doesn’t diminish his martyrdom at all. In the midst of all this suffering Romero still lives among the people. As Romero said "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people." We saw this resurrection in the crowds of the Salvadorans there.
His death as many describe was a political order because of his unwavering belief in Jesus’s message that a special option exists for the poor and thus his death was much like that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Like Jesus he attacked the root causes of injustice and how they worked against the Kingdom of God. He proclaimed we must protect and care for the marginalized of our society regardless of how it changes the social order of that society, it is commanded of us by Christ. As we know both men died for proclaiming this message but as we also know the instruments of evil didn’t win.
Standing with the poor isn’t easy. Many people do it year in and year out. It’s done all over the world in every corner of every country be it here in El Salvador or in the streets of my home Worcester, MA. The work never seems to stop and in the trenches it’s hard to see any progress sometimes but let me leave you with Bishop Romero’s prayer. It always has helped me realize we are not about results we are about faith.
It helps, now and then, to step backand take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.