My experience of an aspect of Archbishop Romero's life

The canonization of Monsignor Romero is very close. Cardinal Rosa Chávez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, had the opportunity and the pleasure of sharing moments of his life with the Salvadoran priest. Thus, he documents some aspects of the life of Oscar Romero, from his personal knowledge and from a source of great richness, still to be explored: the notes that Romero took during his spiritual retreats.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez-October 11, 2018-Reading time: 7 minutes

I have thought several times if it would be interesting to share my experience with Monsignor Romero on a specific point: his relationship with Opus Dei.

I intend to offer only a few snippets and details that only I know and I think it is worth sharing them on the eve of his canonization. To do so, I will also use an almost unpublished source: his spiritual retreat notes from before he became bishop until a month before his assassination.

Monsignor Romero and Don Fernando

Father Óscar Romero, like all the bishops of the country at that time, received a visit from the then Father Fernando Sáenz Lacalle -Don Fernando- to ask him to put in writing his support for the canonization of the founder of Opus Dei. The laudatory text written by the future Archbishop of San Salvador is well known. By the way, when he was appointed bishop of Santiago de María, he subscribed all the priests of this small diocese to the magazine Word.

When I was a seminarian I accompanied Father Romero a couple of times to the Doble Vía Residence in San Salvador, where university students lived, mostly from the eastern part of the country, run by the Work. He was very close to the Work and had an Opus Dei priest as spiritual director. I believe the latter was Don Fernando and he consulted with him before accepting the election as auxiliary bishop of San Salvador. It is recorded that he asked Don Fernando for advice in relation to the Archbishop of that time, Luis Chávez y González and, above all, with his auxiliary Arturo Rivera Damas. And, on his part, the Nunciature entrusted him to be attentive to the actions of these prelates and to inform the Vatican in a timely manner if he noticed anything in the pastoral line of these hierarchs that was not in accordance with the norms of the Church.

Years later, when Monsignor Romero succeeded Monsignor Chávez in the archiepiscopal see, we entered a very different scenario: Monsignor Romero, in his programmatic pastoral letter The Easter Church (April 1977), praises his predecessor in a very beautiful way when he affirms that he holds the helm of the archbishop's ship "with the respect and delicacy of one who feels he has received a priceless inheritance to continue to carry and cultivate it across new and difficult horizons." (p. 5).

In the same pastoral letter, right in the middle of the text, he describes his utopia of the Church, taking it from the Medellin documents: "May the face of a Church that is authentically poor, missionary and paschal, detached from all temporal power and boldly committed to the liberation of the whole man and of all men and women become ever clearer". (Youth, 15). The word "paschal" appears in capital letters in the text. We are at the beginning of his archiepiscopal ministry and he has already had to pick up the corpse of the first murdered priest, Father Rutilio Grande.
He made that utopia a reality, signing it with his blood: he left us a martyrial Church, free from all power and totally committed to the poor and the suffering. Monsignor Romero was, as the bull of beatification says, "pastor according to the heart of Christ, evangelizer and father of the poor, heroic witness of the Kingdom of God".

Pope Francis himself completed this beautiful description of the witness of Christ the following day, at the hour of Regina Coeliby pointing out that "this diligent shepherd, following the example of Jesus, chose to be in the midst of his people, especially the poor and the oppressed, even at the cost of his life." (May 24, 2015).

We are at the beginning of three dramatic years marked by a deep polarization even within the Church. In El Salvador, "rereadings" of Medellin abounded; it is good to remember this when we have just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of this capital event for the Church in Latin America. And it is opportune to underline that only in this continent was there an official "reception" of the conciliar documents. It was a time when nuances hardly existed: "You have to define yourself."said the most radical apostles of liberation, "either you are with the oppressed people or you are with the oppressors.".

It was with this reality that the venerable pastor had to struggle. And in this context he confided to me that he was receiving strong pressure to force Opus Dei to assume fully those approaches, which some considered "the archdiocesan line".. In spite of everything, Monsignor Romero maintained his friendship and relationship with the members of the Work, listening attentively to their observations and suggestions. Proof of this is that on the day of his death he had spent the whole morning, at the invitation of Don Fernando, who came to pick him up at the archbishopric, by the sea. They were accompanied by several priests and they devoted themselves mainly to studying documents related to priestly formation. Upon returning from the trip, Monsignor Romero went to the Jesuit house in Santa Tecla and went to confession. This is recorded by several testimonies, the most reliable being that of his confessor, the Jesuit Segundo Azcue. An hour later the sacrilegious murder took place.

Opus Dei appeared again on the scene when, after the unexpected death of Monsignor Arturo Rivera Damas, Romero's immediate successor, Monsignor Fernando Saenz Lacalle, who was born in Spain but arrived in El Salvador recently ordained as a priest, was elected Archbishop of San Salvador. Let us remember that the first reaction of many people was not favorable to Monsignor Saenz. In this context, the magazine Word published a brief note by Rutilio Silvestri in which he argued that it was obvious that the charge fell precisely on one of the best friends of the murdered pastor, since for a long time he had been his confidant and even his spiritual director. It would be interesting to critically explore this facet of the priest and bishop Oscar Romero, as well as his relationship with the Work during the three years of his intense and difficult shepherding of this portion of the Church of God.

The spirituality of Opus Dei in the spiritual writings of Monsignor Romero

As an initial contribution, I will turn to a practically unpublished source: his spiritual retreat notes, which cover the period from 1966, when he was not yet a bishop, to the retreat he made a month before his death, in February 1980. These notes are now available to the public, although still in selective form. They total 324 pages. On each page we find the notes written in his own handwriting and, at the top, the transcription in block letters to facilitate the reading of the handwritten text.

In the retreat he made on the shores of Lake Ilopango in September 1968 (the previous year he had celebrated his silver jubilee as a priest), there were several allusions to The Way, the famous little book of St. Josemaría. In the meditation on sin he notes these resolutions:
"More inner life, more service to others. Negatively: strategy. Moving away from danger (Camino). Plan of life. Fight venial sin: be perfect. Longing for reparation and penance (The Way). Time for spirituality (...). I will die. Autumn... I will be a dead leaf (The Way). Humility. The world will go on. No one remembers those who have passed". And in making an examination of conscience, he notes: "Most importantly, an act of love (Camino)".

In these detailed notes, we find at the end several references to the magazine Wordone while meditating on the Gospel of Martha and Mary (The Way: The Tabernacle in Bethany). In the final part he transcribes this quote from a letter of the Prelate written in 1950: "Each one must sanctify his profession, sanctify himself in his profession, sanctify with his profession.". There is even room for an anecdote of St. Josemaría, which he told in a talk when he heard that his mother had just died: "The mother of the priest must die three hours after the son.".

From November 10 to 14, 1969, he participated in the retreat preached by Father Juan Izquierdo, of Opus Dei. At this time, Romero was serving as Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador and could only be present intermittently because he had to fulfill tasks entrusted to him by Monsignor Pedro Arnoldo Aparicio, president of the episcopate. However, he is disappointed that there is not an adequate climate for an encounter with God: "Lack of recollection. The 'mancha brava' definitely broke the silence... I interrupted my retreat on the 11th, which I dedicated everything to prepare the agenda [...]. On the 12th, I wake up again in Apulo. I will do what I can these three days".. E

n the next page, write down briefly: "January 26 (1970). Confession with Father Xavier"..
A few lines below we find this sentence, written on April 21, 1970: "The Nuncio notifies me of the Pope's will. I must respond tomorrow. Consultation with Father Fernando".. The next day he writes down what the latter tells him; it is worth transcribing it in full: "Positive elements: line of spiritual direction. a) Faced with the basic problem: take it as sacrifice, expiation and take seriously the amendment: escape from occasions, intense life of prayer and mortification. b) Faced with the temptation of triumphalism: see it as a serious responsibility, a service that is not easy, a work in the presence of God. c) Faced with the temptation of faint-heartedness: see it as work before God, service and guidance to millions of souls. The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep"..

Next, dated June 8, 1970 (Colegio Belén), he writes: "On April 21 (21 it had to be!) at about 6 p.m. the Nuncio notified me of my designation as auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Archbishop. I was to respond the following day. I consulted Fr. Sáenz, Dr. Dárdano, Fr. Navarrete".. Below is a brief summary of what each of the respondents tells you.

A safe guide in the midst of the storm

What he wrote down below marked the novice bishop with fire: "The Plenary Assembly of the Episcopate of Central America and Panama in Antigua Guatemala: May 27 - June 2. Plenary Assembly of the Episcopate of Central America and Panama in Antigua Guatemala. A true grace of the first order: living together with so many good bishops, the reflection of Bishop (Eduardo) Pironio, the liturgy, my work...".

The beloved Argentinean bishop, whose cause for canonization was introduced several years ago, preached the retreat in the Vatican in 1974 at the invitation of Pope Paul VI. He repeated the same retreat the following year, in July, before the bishops of the Central American Isthmus in Antigua Guatemala. Monsignor Romero was at that time assistant secretary of SEDAC (Episcopal Secretariat of Central America) and he took detailed notes of each of the twelve meditations preached by Pironio.

There Monsignor Romero understood the true meaning of Medellin as a salvific event that embodies in the dramatic Latin American reality the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. And there he strengthened a friendship that would turn the Argentinean bishop into his advisor, his confidant and even into his tears cloth in each of the visits that the martyred archbishop would make to the Vatican. This appears clearly in the Diary of Monsignor Romero and is known to all.

May these lines serve to better understand the first Salvadoran saint. May the aroma of his holiness - rosemary is an aromatic plant - spread throughout the world.

The authorCardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez

Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador

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