By Chava Redonnet
From her weekly bulletain at Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church
At about 4 pm on Saturday, October 13, Ruth Orantes, Gustavo and I pulled into a gas station across from the statue of El Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador, about 2 miles from the cathedral. Sometimes the journey from Santa Ana feels a bit endless, but all of a sudden, we were there. Ruth parked the car and we joined the gathering throng. There was music and dancing, vendors selling t-shirts and keychains, posters and even an umbrella, all with the joyful message that our beloved Monseñor Romero was at last to be officially declared a saint. A giant poster erected by the comunidades eclesial de base [the base communities of the churches] declared, “Tu pueblo te hizo santo” (Your people have made you a saint), with a picture of Monseñor Romero’s face made up of thousands of photos of Salvadorans, also martyred during the civil war of 1980-92. The atmosphere was peaceful, joyful, full of good energy. We might have been mostly strangers to each other but we were bonded in our love and joy in the moment. Smiles came easily.
At 5:30 it was getting dark, and the march began. We joined thousands, maybe tens of thousands, on the peaceful, joyful journey to the cathedral. Along the way we met friends (“Gustavo!” cried a voice, someone he hadn’t seen in years), and stopped to join in some dancing. We were dancing in the street in San Salvador! As we grew closer, the avenue narrowed and we passed through the market, open booths stacked with fruits and vegetables and all the necessities of life. The dome of the cathedral, shining brightly in the night sky, grew larger and larger until at last we were in the square. Thousands of people were already there, and there were giant TV screens set up strategically, and photos of Monseñor Romero projected on the front of the cathedral, and banners hanging from the surrounding buildings and mounted in the square, proclaiming the words of our saint. “We have to change the whole system at the root,” said one. “May my blood be the seed of freedom” said another, hanging from the roof of the government building. Beside it, “The cause of all our malaise is the oligarchy.”
In 1980, when this square was filled with mourners at Monseñor Romero’s funeral, soldiers stood on top of those same buildings and shot at the grieving people below. Dozens of people died that day. Now that space is transformed in a joyful proclamation of liberation and justice.
In the months leading up to the canonization I’d had mixed feelings. I was afraid he would become a plaster saint, an object of pious devotion. No fear. The messages all around us were so clear. Your people have made you a saint.
As Mass began we looked for a place to sit in front of one of the giant TVs. By now, Yani and Fabio had joined us. There was a ledge to sit on but only space for one, and there were five of us. We gave Gustavo the ledge, and some folks already sitting gave me a stool they had brought along. Yani and Fabio cuddled up on the ground next to Ruth.
And then the Mass began. It was the most wonderful Mass I’ve attended since the days of our crisis at Corpus Christi – that same feeling of grief and great joy all mixed together, and everybody together, rejoicing. We watched as priest after priest, all in red stoles, processed in and kissed the altar. Red is the color of martyrs. That morning getting dressed I had wavered between a light blue Romero t-shirt and a comfortable red blouse, and inexplicably felt a pull to the red blouse. Now I was dressed for the liturgy! I did not recognize the presiding priest but I liked him. Later I learned that he was Fr. Jose Maria Tojiera of the UCA. In 1989 he was the Jesuit Provincial of Central America, and the first to view the bodies of his martyred Jesuit brothers. He has deep roots in this struggle, and like everything else chosen for this day, the perfect person to lead the Mass.
Fr. Tojiera began by speaking of the “joy, profound joy” of this day. And then the Mass! We sang the Misa de Campesinos, and every song, every Mass part, was full of liberation. The giant screens showed us the dancers, the crowd, the faces of people listening, and the priests on the altar. When it came time for the celebration of the Eucharist, I quietly concelebrated from my place in the crowd. But when it came time for communion, it was apparent that it would be difficult to get to the people serving it, even though they came out into the crowd, and at the same time it became apparent that we needed to leave. Ruth had to go back to her car, because she had church to lead in the morning. Gustavo needed to rest before catching a very early bus to Guatemala. Yani and Fabio told me we could come back, but in my heart I knew we were done for the night. The singing would go on for hours, and finally the telecast of the canonization, live from Rome at 2 am. I was peaceful about missing communion, because I had a plan.
We walked through the dark streets until we found Yani and Fabio’s car, and drove back to El Salvador del Mundo. “Wait,” I said, before Ruth got out of the car. Earlier I had bought some Zemita bread, “the most traditional bread of El Salvador,” Gustavo told me. It was in my bag. So we had communion there in the car, and prayed, and it was an intimate moment of church inside of the great, public, joyful celebration. Three Baptists, an Episcopalian and an RCWP priest, one in the Spirit, we shared the sweet bread and a blessing, and said farewell to Ruth for the night.
Yani and Fabio, my wonderful friends, would gladly have returned with me to the cathedral, but I knew I needed to rest. I set my alarm for 1:45am, and woke up to watch the canonization on my phone. Just after the moment when Pope Francis announced the sainthood of the seven who were canonized, and everyone on the screen was applauding, I heard a thump. Then another, and another – and finally realized it was fireworks!! All the bells of the city were ringing, but I was too far away to hear them.
That’s okay. The walk, the Mass, the dear friends, the joy – the singing, the banners, the people, the people, the people. I was there, and it is enough. Gracias a Dios por eso momento maravilloso.
We will celebrate Saint Romero of America some time in November, probably close to Thanksgiving. (The earlier date of October 25 turned out to conflict with the Rural and Migrant Ministries dinner). I will try to find some of those wonderful songs we sang, and we can learn them together. We’ll do the Mass bilingually so everyone can enjoy it. Hope you can join us!!
Gustavo says I should put a quote from St. Romero in every bulletin. Here’s one from September 25, 1977, one that the people love: “I glory to be in the midst of my people and feel the affection of all those people who see in the Church, through their Bishop, hope.” He sure felt it from heaven, the other night. Love to all,