Major ecumenical events mark Oscar Romero anniversary

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero

In the coming weeks senior clergy from the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and other Christian Churches will be marking the thirtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

On 24 March 1980 Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America, was shot dead whilst celebrating Mass. He paid the ultimate price for having preached the Christian Gospel, speaking out on behalf of the poor in his native El Salvador, a country then split by civil war and governed by a regime that clung to power through military force.

At his appointment as Archbishop in 1977 many had expected Monsignor Romero to be a conservative and bookish leader of the country’s Catholic population. However, the assassination of priests and laity who had denounced the crimes of the junta forced him to realise that following the Gospel of Jesus Christ would bring him directly into opposition with those who exploited power.

In his preaching, radio broadcasts and writings, Archbishop Romero called for Salvadoreans to live in peace, for the government to defend the rights of the poor and marginalised, and for the military to behave justly. His prophetic message provoked the ruling classes and Oscar Romero received numerous death threats. In March 1980 those threats became a reality.

Since his death millions of Christians have recognised Romero as a modern-day martyr. His passionate preaching of God’s love for all, in season and out of season, was never compromised. Pope John Paul II prayed at Romero’s tomb, and Pope Benedict XVI has said it is his hope that the Servant of God will soon be beatified. Not only Roman Catholics but Christians of many denominations regard Romero as a patron saint-in-waiting for the justice and peace movement.

Thirty years after his martyrdom, Christians around the world will be marking Oscar Romero’s witness to Christ through his life and death. Many devotees and Church leaders will gather in El Salvador for a special celebration with the new Head of State, Mauricio Funes, who has dedicated his presidency to the memory of Romero. Among the Christian leaders from Britain taking part will be the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, and the Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche.

Meanwhile here in Britain there will be two major ecumenical services, as well as special Masses in more than a dozen dioceses. Some of these liturgies have been organised by CAFOD, religious orders such as the Carmelites (Romero was shot in a Carmelite chapel), and the Archbishop Romero Trust ( established in 2006 to promote awareness of Romero’s life and to support social justice initiatives in Latin America which carry forward his legacy.

On Saturday 20th March the first major ecumenical service will take place in York Minster at 11am. This Liturgy of the Word will be led by two patrons of the Romero Trust, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Cardinal Keith O’Brien, and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu. Also taking part will be the Roman Catholic Bishop of Middlesbrough, Terence Drainey, and the President of the Methodist Conference, David Gamble.

The second major ecumenical service will take place a week later on Sunday 28 March (Palm Sunday) at 6.30pm in Westminster Abbey. Again two patrons of the Trust will lead the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who will preach, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. They will be joined by the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and the Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, Revd. the Lord Leslie Griffiths. The service will include the laying of a wreath underneath Archbishop Romero’s statue over the Abbey’s West Door.

On the day of the anniversary itself, Wednesday 24 March, Cardinal Keith O’Brien will preside at a special Mass in Edinburgh Cathedral at 7pm at which Bishop Maurice Taylor will preach, whilst in London Archbishop Vincent Nichols will celebrate Mass in honour of Romero in Westminster Cathedral at 5.30pm. This Mass will be sponsored by CAFOD, Pax Christi, Progressio, Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, and the Archbishop Romero Trust.

Additionally services will be celebrated in St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham, Brentwood Cathedral, and various other places (details are listed on the Romero Trust website). The Bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans - himself a trustee of the Romero Trust – has organised a whole week of Romero commemorative events. The Anglican Cathedral in Norwich will celebrate Choral Evensong on 21 March in honour of Romero after which both Bishop Evans and his Anglican counterpart Graham James will give short talks.

Justice and peace commissions of various dioceses in England, Wales and Scotland are likewise organising liturgies and talks about Romero from mid-February onwards.

The new website of the Archbishop Romero Trust – – was launched on 5 February, making available various Romero-related resources including English translations of the Archbishop’s homilies.

A new biography by Scott Wright entitled Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints and published by Orbis Books has its London launch on 23 February and will be available from religious bookshops soon afterwards.

The ground-swell of devotion to Archbishop Romero at grass-roots level, combined with the appreciation by his fellow bishops of Romero’s preaching of the Gospel message, is a hopeful sign that his beatification will soon take place.

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