More than 200 people gathered in St George's Cathedral, Southwark for the Annual Archbishop Romero Lecture on Thursday, 1 October. Organised by the Archbishop Romero Trust, the lecture seeks to keep alive the inspiration of the life and witness of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador.
In this momentous year when he was recognised as Blessed Oscar Romero, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga SDB gave the lecture, stating that "with Pope Francis, the time of Romero has come!".
The Cardinal Archbishop of Honduras is also the coordinator of the group of cardinal advisors Pope Francis has asked to help him look at the workings of the Curia, and so was ideally placed to speak on the theme 'From Romero to Francis: The joy and the tensions of becoming a poor church with the poor'.
Cardinal Rodriguez only met Blessed Oscar Romero twice, both times briefly, but says that his "encounter with Romero grew more deeply from the day of his death". Soon after Romero's martyrdom, the then auxiliary bishop was sent to a diocese on the border between Guatemala and El Salvador. With the intensity of the civil war in El Salvador increasing, Rodriguez says that "my first students, my children as bishop were the 20,000 refugees who fled into Honduras from the warring country. I was learning about Oscar Romero by the people, from the poor who had just escaped."
In the Cardinal's lecture, he reflected on how the preferential option for the poor is not new, but the cry of the poor has to be heard anew in each generation. Looking at the lives of Pope Francis, Blessed Oscar Romero and Jesus, the Cardinal noted that in each person's life, they lived alongside those people living in poverty, knew them, were friends with them, loved them. As a result, each of them naturally lives out the preferential option for the poor. The Cardinal sees that Pope Francis "didn't make the option for the poor from his lips, but from the bottom of his heart".
Praising the document which came from the fifth Latin American Bishops' general conference held in Aparecida in 2007, the Cardinal issued a challenge to all Catholics, 'Do you know the document of Aparecida? You should! You should! It's not just for countries far away, but for you, too. Read it!' This document was very much shaped by Cardinal Bergoglio, our present Pope.
After a huge round of applause at the end of his lecture, the Cardinal asked permission to sing a song he has written following Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, called "La Misión Continental Para Una Iglesia Misionera" ("The Continental Mission for a Missionary Church"). Although many didn't understand the Spanish words, people could not help but clap along to the chorus: "Poverty engulfs us, but it has a solution. The joy of the Gospel calls us to mission and with Pope Francis mercy and blessing."
During questions and answers, the Cardinal pointed to the Romero Cross, especially commissioned for St George's Cathedral, and which houses relics of Blessed Oscar Romero, saying, "That cross is the best honour for Romero, because he was a man of the cross".
A transcript of the lecture is available on the Romero Trust website at: www.romerotrust.org.uk.
The English translation of the Aparecida document is on the website of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM): www.celam.org/aparecida/Ingles.pdf
Previous lectures have been given, amongst others, by Lord Rowan Williams, Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, and Mgr Ricardo Urioste. The texts of previous lectures can be read on the Romero Trust website: www.romerotrust.org.uk