Many people, when listening to Pope Francis or seeing him act, say how he looks like Archbishop Romero! That’s what we’re going to talk about at the end of this long journey.
When the Archbishop Romero returned from Puebla, a city where the young pontiff John Paul II inaugurated with an unforgettable speech on the works of the bishops of the Latin American continent, we received him in the Cathedral of San Salvador. He was very excited because, he said, “Puebla has confirmed my doctrine.” If our pastor had been in the meeting of the bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007, where he would have found the future Pope Francis, he could have said, “Aparecida has confirmed my social doctrine.” There are many similarities between the two pastors with this reflection, I conclude my presentation.
1) Pastors of deep Marian devotion
In 1965 I interrupted, for a year, my ecclesiastical studies to help Father Romero as his assistant in the Minor Seminary. He taught us to love the Virgin of Peace and he fought for Pope Paul VI to declare her patron saint of the whole country, which he achieved. Monsignor Jesus Delgado writes in the official biography of the future saint: “This is how, by promoting devotion to the Queen of Peace and at the same time encouraging the construction of St. Michael’s Cathedral, she touched the main thread of religious identity popular of that town, that responded generously to the two initiatives of that young priest”(Oscar A. Romero, Biography, UCA editors, 1990, p.29).
Another “fanatic” of Mary is Pope Francis. We all remember how he finished his first words, when he appeared before the cheering crowd in St. Peter’s Square, when, after asking for the blessing of the people, he said: “Brothers and sisters, I leave you. Thank you very much for the welcome.
Pray for me! See you soon. Tomorrow I want to go pray to the Virgin so she can guard all of Rome. Good night and good rest.” The next day, very early, the new Pope was on his knees before the Virgin in the Basilica of Santa María la Mayor; and he has returned to that magnificent temple, before embarking on an apostolic journey and returning from it. In the prayer that concludes his exhortation, the joy of the Gospel is addressed to the Mother, thus: “You, Virgin of listening and contemplation, mother of love, wife of eternal weddings, intercede for the Church, of which you are the most pure icon, so that she never stops or stops in her passion for establishing the Kingdom”(n.288).
2) Shepherds with sheep smell and with an ear placed in the village.
Another image that we keep in our minds is that of Pope Francis celebrating his first Sunday Mass in the church of Santa Ana, next to the Plaza de San Pedro. After the Eucharist, he went out to the main door to say goodbye to the people, like any parish priest in town, but to the contrary of the people in charge of his safety. In the homily he had pronounced for the first time the words that would become famous: “God never tires of forgiving.”
A few weeks later, at the Mass on Holy Thursday, he asked the priests to be “shepherds with the smell of sheep”. That is Pope Francis: a shepherd with the smell of sheep. And speaking to the bishops appointed in the last year, in September 2013, he asked them not to be “airport bishops,” but men of God who walk with their flock: “Lower among their faithful, even in the peripheries of their dioceses and in all the ‘existential peripheries’, where there is suffering, loneliness, human degradation. The pastoral presence means walking with the people of God: in front, pointing the way; in the middle, to strengthen in unity; behind, so that nobody be left behind, but, above all, to follow the smell that the people of God have to find new ways”.
It is the same thing that we always saw in Archbishop Romero, from the first years of his priestly ministry. Always walking with the people, first with a vision of the Church rather conservative, and then endorsing the clear choice of the Latin American Church taken in Medellin and Puebla, with an unalterable fidelity to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. When he explains how he prepares Sunday homilies, he says: “I study the word of God that is going to be read on Sunday; I look around me, my people, I enlighten them with this word and I get a synthesis to be able to transmit it “(Homily of August 20, 1978). And in another homily, he confesses: “I glory in being in the midst of my people and feeling the affection of all those people who look to the Church, through their bishop, for hope” (Homily of September 25, 1977).
3) Pastors who evangelize with what they are, with what they do and with what they say.
When the first hundred days of the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis were fulfilled, the spokesman of the Holy See, Father Federico Lombardi, explained the three novelties that, in his opinion, had characterized the beginning of his pontificate; the first was the name he had chosen: Francisco, in honor of the saint of Assisi.
Francisco meant at least three things: love for the poor, commitment to peace and defense of creation (ecology). Second, the fact of being the first pope from Latin America, which meant enrichment for the whole Church since it is a living, dynamic, creative Church. And the third, naturally, his simple lifestyle, austere, warm and so close to people. The impact was such that in two weeks, the new pontiff radically transformed the image of the Church. From all the above, Lombardi drew a conclusion: Pope Francis evangelizes what he is, what he does and what he says.
And what about Archbishop Romero? There is no doubt that he is the most known and loved martyr of the twentieth century in the world. From his time as a priest in the diocese of San Miguel, the people identified with him and followed him. His poor and charitable lifestyle attracted attention. And everyone recognized in him an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ. This vision became even more shocking during his brief three-year ministry in the archdiocese of San Salvador. For something called “voice of those who have no voice.” In the next edition we will continue the second part of this article.