JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
Blessed Oscar Romero (right) shares a light moment with Mr. Jose Jorge “Pepe” Siman (left) and Fr. Carlos Rafael Cabarrus, S.J. (center), in San Salvador in July 1978. This photo, published in Siman’s book, “Un Testimonio” (A Testimony) (San Salvador, 2007, 2015) (translation here), becomes part of our series on Romero in images for the Romero Jubilee Year Declared by the Church for the centenary of the Salvadoran martyr.
The film Life is beautiful (La vita è bella in Italian) by Roberto Benigni, about the attempts of a father to protect his child from the cruelties of the Nazi world, stands out for the way it incorporates tragic themes with comic elements. In a similar way, this photo presents a light moment—of laughter and evident merry conviviality—with a more solemn and somber aspect. The lightness is evident. Don Pepe tells Super Martyrio: “In this picture you can see one of the many moments which we shared together with Archbishop Romero—moments of conversation and laughter, during the meetings of the Seminar on Religious Sociology” at the ‘Jose Simeon Canas’ Central American University.
In his book, Don Pepe also captures some of the humor of Archbishop Romero: “he laughed and joked a lot” with the members of the Siman household, when he visited. He liked to tell them funny stories, such as, “the day, when he was a parish priest in San Miguel, that a peasant came to see him and was invited to stay for lunch. Monseñor served him some lettuce salad, upon which the peasant turned to him and said: ‘Padre, look, I know I am a poor man but I don’t eat grass.’ And my children would laugh and laugh.”
The photo also captures a moment during a brief calm in the persecution of the Salvadoran Church—a calm that would be broken with the murder of Fr. Barrera in November—but on this day, Archbishop Romero was at ease, amongst friends and allies and could take the luxury of a laugh. For one brief moment, “Life is Beautiful” for Oscar Romero. His biographies also tell us that during this time, Archbishop Romero was busy preparing his third pastoral letter “The Church and political and popular organizations”, which would come out in August. He had just returned from a trip to Rome, his last meeting with Pope Paul VI, and he felt strongly invigorated to carry on with his mission.
But there is also a very poignant element in this photo. Have you picked up on it? It’s the shirt. Archbishop Romero is wearing the shirt we all saw at the beatification ceremony, now known simply as “the bloody shirt,” because it was the garment that was drenched with blood during the tragic and violent martyrial death of the Blessed. There are no other published photos of Romero wearing the shirt that show the shirt in its entirety.
Father Cabarrus has the last word. In his book “Seducidos por el Dios de los Pobres” (Seduced by the God of the Poor) (Madrid, 1995), he writes these wise words about the travails of the martyred bishop: “The Archdiocese of San Salvador was a challenge for Archbishop Romero, and Romero the Archbishop was a challenge for his people.”