FRIDAY MARCH 24 - ROMERO'S ANNIVERSARY
Procession and Mass.
Well so much for early Mass - the bus broke a fan-belt before we left, the city traffic was clogged, and then the driver got completely lost - an American tourist helped us out and Marie gave the driver directions - that's how lost he was! We got to the hospital chapel in time for the sign of peace - Hilton had made it and was concelebrating - something I usually don't do, but was planning to this morning for the special occasion - anyway Jenny, Linda and I (I mention them in that order indicating our degree of desperation) spent the rest of Mass looking for and then queuing in a dunny line though I dare say the locals have a different term for it. An old nun eventually came and rescued me from the line of waiting women (there was no "caballeros" in sight) and took me off to where there was a pair of loos - near where we had looked in the first place but hadn't seen.
The Mass over with and the compulsory series of speeches, warnings about the sun, more speeches, and then we escaped and the march began - and what a two and a half hours it was.
If much of our week has been about Romero himself, today was about the people and their gently integrated faith.
They have no doubt that Romero is San
Romero, and they have no need for Rome to tell them it is so - though it would be an excellent Jubilee gift!
- I don't know how many marched but one figure put was about 70,000, and it was a humbling and truly gifted moment to be able to share the people's journey..... today it was the people and not the educated SICSAL folk of the past few days. Today it was old men, -
four fellows determinedly and cheerfully nursing their giant portrait of Romero on a rickety home-made structure, made of pieces of timber, badly nailed together and wobbling along on
four tiny wheels - which needed servicing with a hammer and screwdriver every couple of blocks;
- like the three little old ladies, gnarled, tiny and brave, singing the songs of faith and justice in honour of their Saint - walking without hats or other protection in the hot sun. I greeted one and got a curt "Buenos..." in reply. I then offered her the bag of water I'd started to drink, and with an unsmiling "Gracias" she took it, sucked a couple of mouthfuls and immediately passed the little water bag to her two companions. Whatever we have is for sharing, was the message - so simple and yet so far from our reality as first world and third world people living on the one planet. A few minutes later another woman - a visitor from her dress, sheltered my little wizened teacher with an umbrella.
And so on we walked.....
- Then there was the self-contained young woman - perhaps in her early twenties, slim, earthy-looking and very lovely - complete in
her own contemplation, walking alone near the head of the procession, (Sean got us to move to the front so we could get into the Cathedral ok - it worked), singing the songs with a gentle clear voice and focussing totally it seemed on this holy journey.
I wonder what her story is and in a community where almost everyone connects as soon as eyes meet or vehicles come close, she was as alone, as complete and as beautiful as anyone or anything I had seen this week - and for a long time before that. Her composure spoke of something she could see that the rest of us weren't privy to.
And so on we marched, hatted, sucking our water bags or bottles, sweating happily as our little band drank from the spirit of this people, and in turn offered them our love and solidarity.
At least three or four times this week people have said to one or other of us, "I/We are so very happy that you have come all the way from Australia to be with us".
Our presence has meaning - at most events the "Delegacion
" from Australia is welcomed warmly as one of the visiting groups. as well as on the tv reports each day.
- And then there was
Carolina - at one point in the march we were yelling our "Que vivas
" and "Los Pueblos Unidad
"'s and almost at the same moment this bright-eyed smiling girl near me, finished her shout as I finished mine.
She hopped with the fun of it all and so did I. We high-fived each other and marched on.
We reached the Cathedral - which was already nearly full - at least all the seats were.....
We found a spot on the left side up above the steps and plonked ourselves down - the sweat pouring, the stone floor turning out to be filthy - so the more we sat the dirtier we got. I remembered an old Oblate priest I had met in Mexicali, Mexico back in the 70's who was in his dusty town illegally - he invited me to walk with him "It's dirty and dusty but it's holy dirt" - and his words echoed again today as the the smoky noisy buses joined their music to that of the choir and we sat and sweated and prayed. "Dios es muy grande" I remembered my Oblate friend from the 70's and his little mantra. I wonder if he's still on the planet or spreading a bit of "holy dirt" someplace else. We sweated some more and got grubbier with each twist of the body on the hard floor. Linda found a bit of wall to lean against and went to sleep! She is a joy.
The parade began - a hundred or so concelebrating priests, bishops, Cardinal Mahony from LA - a giant in red - the Nuncio and the Archbishop - the people and choir bounced to a wonderful rhythmic tribute to Romero and applauded the parade of their much-loved priests.
Behind us two priests gently reconciled all who cared to come for the duration of the celebration.
Jenny had her zoom lens ready to get a shot of Hilton in his glory - but he didn't appear - nor did Don Samuel Ruiz from Mexico - a hero of the liberation movement, nor my mate Herbert from Brazil, and some others - I'll tell you why in a bit.
I put on my Aboriginal stole, a gift from my friend Anne who worked with the Tiwis on Bathurst Island years' ago.
I did this,
not to concelebrate but as a sign to anyone around that Australia was here in support and prayer and love.
Two people standing near to me decided to extend their hands and
say the words of consecration - why I'm not sure - maybe a statement from one about the priesthood of everyone, and from the other, perhaps an anger
Whatever the case, singling out the Institution narrative like that so misses the point of the whole prayer
- and the deeper understanding that it is the whole prayer that brings the sacrament into being, the whole prayer meaning the prayer of the presiding celebrant, and the
community of believers together.
Using the Institution narrative to make some kind of statement, if that is what they were doing, is as trivializing and misplaced as the old piety which invested the "Consecration
" with the property of magic words and the priest with the role of shaman or witch doctor.
It's like saying "We can do the magic as well as you ordained blokes."
It was a minor moment but one that maybe was planned - they were on either side of me, and
perhaps thought I was doing the priest/power bit because of my stole - I wasn't - I was doing Kev! - who happens to be a priest.
Oh - metres away who should appear but Carolina - the lass I'd high-fived on the march, but now with two other young girls.
She saw me and gave a cheery wave and at the sign of peace she scampered my way and gave me a huge smile and an even huger hug! "Paz de Romero
" she whispered - and I cried.
I met her two friends Mitzy and Jeanne, and got Linda to take a picture of us before we went to communion
- I didn't want to lose the moment.
A good looking young bloke appeared after communion and there were hugs among them - I guessed rightly he was Carolina's boyfriend.
The music was superb - Sean says he has never heard any music here ever so well prepared.
They seemed to use backing tracks done with computer - they were subtle and very classy - the singing was gentle and powerful, sweet harmonies and counterpoints ever so rarely going out of time, and the swell of the people's voices coming in on refrains.
The sound was totally relaxed, prayerful and I'm sure full of grace.
The acoustics were difficult, so Sean couldn't pick up the homily well enough to translate it for us - it was long and got a generous applause from the people. Everything gets a generous response here it seems.
After Communion there was a stirring song celebrating Romero's commitment to justice and at the end Sean loudly commenced an applause - we took it up and soon the whole Cathedral, bishops, priests and people were applauding.
"I'm naughty" said Sean - but
I reckon he's got the gift of stirring people into movement, and plays the locals' game as well as they do. It was a good moment - we offered another
little gift to the event.
After the Blessing I, Nicole and Marie connected with Carolina and her friends, including the handsome Alberto - a graceful and calm young man - and we talked for quite a while with Sean's help. They look 15 or so, but are all at UCA (Jesuit University) studying law or economics.
Sean told Jeanne I was Marist and she wanted to hear about Marcellin Champagnat - so she did.
We swapped addresses - Carolina was a bit disappointed when I said I might not venture back into town to be at the all night vigil with them - she was going to be there with her friends.
Another hug, Carolina slips me her yellow Romero anniversary head-band, and they were gone.
One observation from all this -
the people young and old, sing together, and it
is as natural to them as breathing.
Their songs of faith, of their love for Monsenor Romero,
are their political and folk songs too. - Faith is a strand seamlessly woven into the fabric of their being - there is no need to talk about religion - it's as natural as eating, breathing, making love and growing old - the sacrament is whole again in these brave poor people. How much they have to teach us.
It's tragic that their present Archbishop and some of his colleagues in the country can't hear them because of their own ideology.
This brings me to our
mate Hilton - having him share the past few days with us has been wonderful fun and great connecting.
He'd been looking forward to concelebrating at this afternoon's Mass but as I said, along with some others, didn't
Well we caught up with him after the Mass out on the street - he'd been there all right, but when we asked him why he hadn't appeared in all his magnificence he simply said "When that bloke from the Vatican (the Nuncio) saw Ruiz (don Samuel the elder statesman of liberation, friend of Romero, hero of the people here as in Mexico - as the thunderous reception he got last night at the official welcome showed), he turned his back on him.@
So Hilton and Herbert decided they didn't want to be up there with "that lot" and sat among the people with Don Samuel!!
I think we all felt a bit proud of our bishop from Melbourne. - that is until the bastard said "well have a good arvo - I'm heading off with Pedro and the others, they're much more fun" and with a huge laugh poured himself into a waiting minibus full of bishops - heading I expect for an excellent afternoon!!!
He's done us good and I reckon that may be mutual.
A brief civil ceremony followed the Mass beside the Cathedral where the street that runs along there was officially renamed "Av Monsenor Oscar A Romero" and then when we got out of the way so the noisy smoky traffic could carry on past the newly stencilled name in bright yellow and black on the kerbing.
We waited in the sun in varying degrees of hunger and tiredness - the bus eventually came and we found our way home -
a truly wondrous cold shower, then some clothes-washing - some of our girls were there too so we had a real communal wash-in - scrubbing each item by hand, rinsing it, following the ancient, prescribed ritual to the letter - what a great community-builder the laundry is - we should abolish washing machines and driers altogether - third world living has so much to teach us - increasingly dependent as we are on our magic machines and concomitantly
isolated from one another.
I stay home tonight for some quiet and prayer - while some of the others venture into town again.
For me the day has been full - I need to sit back and let it seep into me now.
SATURDAY MARCH 25 - FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION
(I wake up to see Sean giving me a pretty wrist-band - "Met your friend last night (Carolina) - she said to give you this - made it herself" - sigh)
And how the Word became flesh today!
When we thought that the day was full enough, someone else would appear on the horizon and open our eyes, minds and hearts a little further.
The last day of the SICSAL conference - probably the nicest weather - and the hall at UCA was packed for Don Pedro Cassadaglia's talk. (notes from this talk in the appendix) He spoke poetically and with passion about the need for a new kind of globalization to counteract the one that is currently sweeping the world.
The one he promoted was
of course the globalization of the gospel.
performer, used to the media spotlight, charming and forthright, this bishop from Brazil is clearly one of the signs of hope in a world where the cause of liberation appears to be flagging as we heard from Don Samuel the other day.
The rest of the conference was made up of regional meetings, reports and suggestions for the future.
CONCERT AT UCA AND AN EVENTFUL PIZZA AND BEER SESSIONY..
Then there was the wonderful concert in the grounds of UCA where a packed crowd listened to four bands - themselves revolutionary heroes.
From Venezuela and Nicaragua came two of the groups, and two groups were local.
These two international groups were icons of hope in El Salvador during their war, as the revolutions in the other two countries had been resolved a few years before.
To be caught for instance in El Salvador with a cassette of one of these groups, even ten years' ago meant you risked a visit from a death squad.
Watching the pleasure and joy on the thousands of faces, seeing everyone, old and young bouncing, dancing, cheering, and singing the familiar words that had sustained them during their struggle, meant that tears weren't very far away.
Just a few short years' ago, the gathering we have just been at would have been totally impossible.
The last band was from Venezuela and their leader at one stage commented on the procession and event at the Plaza last night - the one I missed - he said when he heard the recording of Romero's last homily and then the sound of the gunshot, he didn't feel rage so much as joy because of the sacrifice of Monsenor and because Romero was still with us - alive as he said he would be among his people. His song then began with the words, "Those who are killed for the cause of life are not dead at all..."
I was wearing the blue canvas hat I'd bought at the markets and at one stage as one song started a woman behind me snatched it off my head laughing excitedly - because the song was all about a blue hat. I must find out the story of the song..
The Nicaraguan group along with all their popular hits presented a song just written to honour Romero's 20th anniversary - it was a moving moment to hear the people's response.
At the end of the concert, the Nicaraguan band joined the Venezuelans on the stage for a last hurrah, and we noticed two women really dancing near us like there was no tomorrow - they saw us watching, well of course here no one watches, everyone gets involved, and so within seconds we were dancing with them as if there was no tomorrow. This gave Sean a break from translation because they both had excellent English - they both teach at UCA, and as well each had her own story to tell.
Bruno at the concert with Mary-Ana & Patricia who remember meeting Romero two days before his death and (left) little Carolina who will grow up please God in the freedom he has helped to win