New saint ‘keeps watch’ over Hispanic Catholic community

Latin-American Catholics celebrate the canonization of St. Oscar Romero

Denver’s Queen of Peace Parish was filled with faithful Salvadorians and other Catholics from the United States and diverse Latin-American countries Oct. 14, all celebrating with deep devotion the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, whom Pope Francis declared a saint that same day.

Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez celebrated a Spanish-language Mass at the Denver parish and highlighted the saint’s words as Archbishop of San Salvador in his homily: “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be a reality.”

“Archbishop Romero practiced Christian virtue to the highest degree: to the point of giving up his life; to the point of martyrdom,” Bishop Rodriguez said.

He highlighted Archbishop Romero’s “faith in Christ, his love for the poor, and his complete dedication to the advocacy and defense of their dignity as people and children of God.”

“[He was a pastor] who opted for the poor, for the oppressed, for those persecuted by the government, for those whose dignity and rights were violated with impunity. He was, as he himself said, ‘The voice of the voiceless,’” Bishop Rodriguez assured.

AURORA, CO – OCTOBER 14: Bishop Jorge Rodriguez celebrates Mass for newly canonized Archbishop Óscar Romero at Queen of Peace Catholic Parish on October 14, 2018, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Moreover, the prelate affirmed that St. Oscar Romero reminds the faithful that, “at times, love of neighbor requires social and political commitment, which can even take the form of prophetic denunciation, of the defense of excluded rights and of committed action.”

“We also live in the midst of injustices, of our own brothers and sisters who are deprived of their liberty in detention centers for not possessing documents; of immigrants whose rights are violated and find themselves separated from their families; of our brothers and sisters who day after day leave home fearful of being arrested… while they work honestly to offer a future to their children,” Bishop Rodriguez said.

“According to Catholic teaching, when we are dealing with human beings who possess inviolable and unalienable rights, we need to act respecting their dignity… allowing everyone to have access to what they need… especially helping the poor in a spirit of solidarity,” Bishop Rodriguez told the Denver Catholic in a previous  interview, in which he also quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood… [and] immigrants are obliged… to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (2241).

In that interview, he explained that, with the common good in mind, comprehensive policies can be created, keeping in mind the tension between the immigrant’s right to migrate and the State’s right to control its borders. Such policies could make a “both-and” of respecting the human person and the law, instead of an “either-or.” These laws, he assured, need to be at the service of the human person.

During his homily, the bishop called those present to action: “It is urgent that we help these brothers and sisters, that we be by their side, denounce the trampling of their rights, and participate in the political battle for a comprehensive immigration reform.”

AURORA, CO – OCTOBER 14: Parishioners celebrate the canonization of Archbishop Óscar Romero during Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Parish on October 14, 2018, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Moreover, Bishop Rodriguez brought attention to El Salvador’s Civil War from 1980 to 1992 — although its origin can be traced back the 1960s — which left more then 75,000 dead civilians and 9,000 missing.

“Many of you, or many of your family members, came to this country fleeing death,” he told the congregation. “Over so much suffering and over you and your families, now a Salvadorian saint keeps watch: St. Oscar Romero, whom even some of you here today met personally.”

Following the Eucharistic celebration, the faithful assembled at the parish center to honor the martyr’s canonization with dances and traditional dishes.

One of the attendants was Deacon Edgar Valle, from Presentation of Our Lord Parish in Denver, who met Archbishop Romero personally.

“He transformed my life. He’s a spiritual father for me. I have read all of his homilies at length, which have helped me as a deacon and preacher,” he told the Denver Catholic.

Thus, many Salvadorians celebrated those prophetic words of St. Oscar Romero before he was assassinated: “As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection: If they kill me, I shall rise in the Salvadorian people.”

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA