|Siscal conference begins|
A break for lunch, for phone calls and shopping, a visit to a lovely art gallery - belonging to the artist who painted the mural on the cathedral, a visit to the National University, home of much of the FMLN development, then we finished at the Jesuit University UCA - scene of this week's celebration and conference to mark the 20th anniversary of Romero's death.
SICSAL CONFERENCE BEGINS.
Well we register as delegates to the five-day conference and along with about fifty others begin the first session - singing, prayer and a welcome to the folk from near and far - we are from El Salvador of course, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Belgium, France, Italy, Haiti, Ireland, Japan, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, USA, and of course Australia. It was then pointed out to us that it was all our task to welcome each other so it was "Bienvenidos" all round with wonderful hugs, kisses and cries of delight - I felt a deep joy and sense of wonder at belonging to such a church - a church so far removed from the nit-picking tawdry politics which often get mistaken for "church"!
This was something else - God's people greeting each other in faith and thankfulness. I've seldom felt such joy flowing straight from the heart of the gospel and the Body of Christ which is still broken and bleeding and is alive and well - well, beyond the reach of enslaving laws, bullets, propaganda and scandal.
More music and the introduction of the SICSAL executives for this year - the Vicar-General of this Archdiocese - Ricardo Urioste. We met him in the crypt of the Cathedral yesterday - Romero was criticised by the other bishops of his time for not sacking this man whom they regarded as too left- wing. He is a gentle elder of the Church here and loved by young and old alike and still keeps the flame of liberation burning in spite of Rome's efforts to destroy it. The US and the Vatican share a common obsession with anything left of centre (which is where the gospel is of course), and mistakenly equate it with "atheistic communism" - the naivete and neurosis involved in this bizarre politic defies understanding.
Urioste welcomed us in the name of the Archdiocese - since the Archbishop wasn't present!
Then were introduced, Romero's older brother and his wife and Romero's sister - I met them all in the University canteen afterwards when we were queuing up for bottled water together - such an ordinary moment - but one I will remember long and fondly. Also in the same queue I met Cecilia and another nun from Japan - Cecilia is the secretary of the Japanese Bishops' Commission for Justice and peace - and they both know Paddy O'Hare, one of our little Marist band in Japan.
The opening session continues with reflection and song and then a break. During the break I meet some people from all sorts of places - Jim - a cheery -priest from Texas and his band of friends, folk from Belgium, Spain, and finally a guy in a blue tonsure shirt, with daggy sandals, a grey moustache and a winning smile - "Herbert Hermes" he says - and by the end of our twenty minutes or so of conversation I know I am with another Romero.
Herbert is a Benedictine from the States who for thirty years has worked in Brazil. For the past ten years he has been bishop of Christalandia in the north of Brazil - his commitment is to the poor, and he is convinced that it was not the Nuncio or the Pope who called him to shepherd the church, but rather the people. He is humble, fun, easy to talk with - a brother in moments - and suffering as Romero did at the hands of the right-wing reactionaries the Vatican has appointed as bishops, (often over and against the will of the local bishops' conference) and in violation of the principles of collegiality spelt out at the Vatican Council.
Herbert has worked for the liberation of slaves duped into "employment" by unscrupulous companies who lure them into the country with the promise of work , transport them, fill them with grog, and then refuse to pay them because they owe the company for their travel, their grog and their accommodation. The Bishops' conference wants to hear none of it when Herbert raises the matter. The speaker after him wants to discuss the crisis in clerical dress!! At least his request got the chop too!
I=m glad I've met Heriberto - and promise to keep him in my prayers and the challenge of his gospel living in my heart.
There was a final session tonight- the hall was packed to hear Don Samuel Ruiz Garcia - speak on the life and death of Romero and on the meaning of his gift for today's church here and universally. His message is one of radical ecumenism as practiced by Romero after his conversion to the poor, and of a passion for justice that is gentle, joyful and faithful. At least four TV stations are recording the event and the place is packed out - Don Samuel is another hero here - a bishop and liberationist who has survived the last twenty years with the gentleness that can only come from a deep communion with Jesus and his friends. Sharing the stage with him is Oscar Romero's younger brother - I meet him after his wonderful brief address to the assembly - he is a delight and has good friends in Sydney - speaks good English and so we can talk to him without an interpreter.
We also meet up with Bishop Hilton Deakin from Melbourne, chair of Caritas Australia, and lover of good beer. He is excited to find us here and promises to meet for a "cervase" or two before the week is out. His most memorable line was when I rather lamely commented 'The Church's politics are astonishing" - to which he retorted "No they aren't astonishing - they stink"!!!! I'm looking forward to that beer (cervase), and can feel some songs coming on.
Today I bought a Romero t-shirt and a stole - symbols of a remarkable day when I have known some of the deepest emotion possible this side of seeing God I think. It has been truly blessed and I should sleep - Symphony in the dark is well underway!! - though there are less instruments in the dorm tonight - some have evidently escaped the music.
This day has been truly blessed - Tomorrow can do what it likes!
San Romero, today I feel as though I have met you and your gospel that is hard as steel and beautiful as gold.
It's now nearly midnight and those bloody roosters have decided to put on another concert!