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Romero: conservative, archbishop, radical, martyr, pop saint, Saint

[ by Charles Cameron — Pope Francis recently canonized him — this is my belated tribute ]
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  • The Economist, El Salvador’s most famous martyr, Óscar Romero, is canonised
  • The Atlantic, What Óscar Romero’s Canonization Says About Pope Francis
  • **

    He was already a popular saint. For years the faithful have congregated every Sunday for mass by his tomb in the crypt of the cathedral in San Salvador, inspired by the man they called San Óscar or San Romero de América. Now it is official. On October 14th in Rome, Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero was canonised, almost 40 years after he fell to a gunman’s bullet while finishing a private mass at a chapel that is today a site of pilgrimage. He had recited the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

    As the archbishop read the Gospel, the assassins pulled up to the chapel. As he raised the consecrated bread and wine, the gunman fired a shot to the heart.

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    The Economist’s graphic, above, gets it wrong. It’s not the struggle, signified by the familiar raised, clenched fist that grabs the halo of sanctity, it’s the diminutive (humble) figure in clerical garb, his hands holding a cross and giving a blessing on whom the halo descends, as noted by Pope Francis.

    The theological and political twists and turns of Romero’s life are succinctly presented in my heading, with further details in the two articles.

    What I have wanted to illuminate here, however, is the sacramental nature of the arch bishop’s martyrdom, assassinated while saying Mass. Cavanaugh has an entire, brilliant book, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ demonstrating torture in S America as the inverse of sacrament, the attempt to wipe out all traces of the body of Christ present in those who receive it in the Eucharistic sacrament, and the martyrdom of Romero is a summation and eloquent proof of Cavanaugh’s thesis.

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    As I mentioed here before, in Of sacrifice and martyrdom, I have a particular interest in eucharistic martyrs, ghaving served Mass often enough, kneeling on the paving-stones of the lady chapel of Brightwell church near Wallingford, Berks — or is it now Oxon?

    There in the Lady Chapel, embedded in one of those stones, is the brass of a priest of Brightwell, who too was assassinated while saying Mass.

    The brass might as well be illustrating the holy death of Saint Oscar Romero, archbishop and martyr.

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    Oscar Romero, ora pro nobis.

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