London: Romero service celebrates 'a great saint of our times'

Marie Dennis (centre) Ambassador Romero (right) during service

Marie Dennis (centre) Ambassador Romero (right) during service

Around 250 people braved blizzard conditions in London on Saturday morning to attend this year’s ecumenical service to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Held at St Martin in the Field's Church in Trafalgar Square, it was organised by the Archbishop Romero Trust and Pax Christi. The keynote speaker described Romero as “a great saint of our times”.

The speaker was Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the global Catholic peace movement, and a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace, with extensive experience of advocacy work in Washington regarding issues of justice and peace. She is also a co-author of seven books, including ‘Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings’ and ‘A Retreat with Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day: Walking with the Poor’.

“Romero repeatedly challenged the culture of death” she said, “that in which he was immediately immersed, but also its roots and expressions beyond El Salvador”. She suggested that, “what Romero resisted was death, the death of children ill from curable diseases, the death of hope in young people, the death of those who stood up to the gods of death – death from war, torture, poverty, cynicism or despair”.

Romero had an “unequivocal belief in Resurrection” she felt, “and we are invited again – by the life and witness of this great saint of our times - to do the same”. Dennis urged a re-think on what we understand by security, saying “the orchestration of fear and the response to orchestrated fear have become the primary occupation of too many people”.

At the start, the congregation laid candles around a bust of Romero, who was assassinated by a right-wing death squad on 24 March 1980 while saying Mass. It happened one day after he gave a sermon calling on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while elevating the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic rite.

Prayers were said at Saturday’s service for progress in the canonisation cause of Romero and, at the conclusion of the service, El Salvador’s Ambassador to Britain, Werner Matias Romero, described 2013 as a “year of hope for El Salvador, especially with the election of the first Latin American pope”. He reported that when the country’s first lady, Vanda Pignato, conversed with Pope Francis after his inauguration last week and showed him her lapel badge carrying an image of Archbishop Romero, the Pope, “expressed his hope to have a rapid canonisation process of Archbishop Romero, as a recognition of his legacy".

“Archbishop Romero taught us to be in solidarity with those who are poor” said Marie Dennis. It seemed entirely appropriate then that around a dozen homeless people, who had slept in St Martin in the Fields overnight, stayed on for the service. Indeed, the readings and music were accompanied by a gentle snoring throughout. Archbishop Romero would have approved!

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