BY NATALIE TERRY | May 25, 2015
Each one of you has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is someone who has been baptized… Because of this it is painful to think of the cowardice of so many Christians and in the betrayal of others who have been baptized. What are you doing, those of you who are baptized, in the world of politics? Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there. This is where you have to say something in the name of truth that shines on the lies of the earth. Let us not be cowards. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.
Blessed Oscar Romero | July 8, 1979
At 5:00am on Saturday the streets leading to Plaza Salvador del Mundo were lined with food tents, coffee stands and hydration stations for the 300,000+ people who would gather to celebrate the beatification of Monsignor Oscar Romero. Just as I arrived, a truck carrying Romero’s relics approached the entrance of the plaza turned open air church. A group of young people circled the truck, held hands and slowly walked alongside it as a safety measure turned beautiful act of community. As the congregation gathered for liturgy, there was no violence, only the occasional pop from a joyful firework (a little nerve wracking until you figured out what it was), the whir of a few helicopters (they did seem to fly unnecessarily low) and eventually, a circular rainbow around the sun that appeared just as the Vatican decree proclaiming the beatification of Oscar Romero was read by Cardinal Angelo Amato (yes, this really did happen, check out Fr. James Martin S.J.’s Facebook page for a great picture). In the spirit of Romero, 300,000 people gathered in peace.
I didn’t now what to expect at a liturgy with so many people but I have to admit that I did not expect that I or really most people for that matter, would receive communion. Of course, because God works in those kinds of ways, Romero’s beatification was a beautiful experience of liturgy. You couldn’t hear what was going on all of the time and the screens broadcasting the altar froze now and again. People constantly shuffled around, moved chairs and accidentally bumped into one another. But, songs were sung, readings were proclaimed, a word was preached, prayers were prayed and communion was shared. When it was time for Eucharist, priests streamed into the crowds accompanied by volunteers with yellow umbrellas so people could find them easily. To my great surprise, it seemed like there was enough communion for everyone. As members of the congregation began to leave, people said goodbyes to those they had been standing by, signifying the bond that liturgy shares and that Romero challenges us to live by. The whole day became liturgy, the walking, the waiting, the eating, the praying, it was all part of a whole, a step along the way, a moment and now a memory for a Christian people constantly on their way.
From where I was on the plaza for the beatification, I couldn’t see the altar and I could barely see one of the screens broadcasting the live stream. I could see the people around me. This was profoundly decentralizing. If you asked me who presided at the Mass, I would say it was the tens of thousands of people around me. We know this is the truth, that we celebrate the liturgy only all together as one church, but how often we and the powers that be forget this.
As we celebrate Romero’s beatification, we cannot neglect that this beautiful celebration was also fraught with tensions. Romero’s bloodied shirt, the relic so carefully processed into the liturgy, has been taken from the community who has kept watch over it for years, making us ask, where the home for Romero’s relics should be. The people who sat up close to the altar were the privileged, the 100 cardinals and bishops, an estimated 1,200 priests and countless political leaders and dignitaries, making us ask, where the poor really were. In official counts for attendance there has been no mention of religious women, ironic since so many religious women stood by Romero in his last days, making us ask how long the patriarchal part of our church will continue to exist. The 300,000+ lay people in attendance stood on the peripheries. The scene created a mock-up of the hierarchy of the church.
In the forward to Maria Lopez Vigil’s book, Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic, Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J., comments on Romero’s beatification and offers a hope that, “the Monsenor who is beatified be the real Monsenor–not a watered down version of a priest who is pious but distant from his people.” This was also the hope of El Pueblo de Dios en Camino, an ecclesial base community in San Salvador. At liturgy on Sunday to celebrate Pentecost the base community reflected on their pain of being excluded from planning the beatification. On Friday as the San Salvador Archdiocese hosted a vigil to begin the beatification celebration, the base communities hosted their own vigil because their voices continue to be marginalized in the structural church. It is important for us to hear these tensions, as they teach of the injustices that exist in our church. Now, calling on Blessed Oscar Romero, it is up to all of us to speak like Romero and be like Romero. As the base community reflected, “It’s easy to say we adore Romero, but what are we doing?”
The Gospel on Pentecost proclaims, “on the evening of the first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst…” (John 20: 19-23). In a shared homily at the base community, one man reflected on the fear of the disciples that made them close all of the doors, just like doors were closed in El Salvador when Romero was killed because people were scared. Today, many doors are still closed. The man pointed out that at the beatification the dire economic and political situation of El Salvador was not mentioned, implying the risk of watering down Romero’s prophetic call to the world. The task is our’s now, to ensure that the beatified Monseñor Romero is the real Monseñor. It is our time to be God’s microphone in our communities.
When we hear of the disciples locked doors and the locked doors of our world, we know that the doors do not remain locked, that Jesus enters the room. The Gospel is a gospel of open doors. With all of its complexity, Romero’s beatification opens new doors for the universal church. As the base community reflected yesterday, now Oscar Romero will be known all over the world.
Natalie Terry is director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, a ministry of St. Agnes Parish in San Francisco, CA. She has a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. She is currently working on her thesis for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in the area of sacramental theology. She graduated from John Carroll University in 2010 with Bachelor of Arts in religious studies and served as a volunteer with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Pulaski, Pennsylvania. Natalie has been a facilitator and prayer leader with the Ignatian Solidarity Network, and she serves as a lay preacher, lector, Eucharistic minister and presider of Communion services and Liturgies of the Word. She is also currently serving as the Director of Children’s Faith Formation at St. Agnes Parish. She is originally from Wynantskill, New York.