My journey to reconnecting in a personal, deep way with my Catholic faith starts with my introduction to the life and death of Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977-1980. In the midst of a spiritual drought, I signed up to take a political theology course my junior year as an undergraduate at Holy Cross. This course introduced me to Romero’s life, ministry, and assassination in 1980, which took place during rampant state-sponsored oppression in a country on the brink of civil war. I admired the ways his faith led him to enter into deeply personal and loving relationships with the Salvadoran people, and to serve as a beacon of justice and hope, even in the face of threats to his life.
This introduction was the catalyst for a (long) journey -- one influenced heavily by my year as a Jesuit Volunteer -- to my current graduate studies in theology and ministry at Boston College. In many ways, through Romero, my faith continues to gain new meaning – including a trip to attend his canonization in Rome.
I was on an immersion trip to El Salvador with fellow graduate students this past March when Pope Francis announced Romero’s canonization. While there, we witnessed the prominent ways Romero’s legacy remains alive today. Reactions to the Pope’s announcement ranged from tears to pure joy – as well as the acknowledgement that it took almost forty years for the church to proclaim what Salvadorans have always known: Óscar Romero, their martyr, is a saint.
This trip sparked the idea of attending the actual canonization in Rome. Considering the immense role Óscar Romero has played in my faith journey, I knew this was something I had to do if I could make it work. Five of us from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry ended up journeying to Rome for the October 14 ceremony, including another Former Jesuit Volunteer, Alec Hartman (Nashville 2016-17).
While there, we met up with Luke Hansen, SJ (San Jose 2004-05). When I was a Jesuit Volunteer, Luke was a member of my community’s Local Support Team while completing his studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Luke offered great support and friendship to us that year, and I was excited to get to see him in Rome. He gave us a tour of the rooms where St. Ignatius lived and died, and said mass for us there. This was a powerful moment to pray and reflect in gratitude for the role of both Ignatius and Romero in our spiritual lives, each of whom serve as models of deep faith and service.
On the day of the canonization, we awoke at 5:00am to head to the Vatican for the 10:00am ceremony. The surrounding area was already packed with people, many of whom were Salvadorans donning blue hats and Salvadoran flags. This moment obviously meant something particularly special to them, and it was an honor to witness it together.
In line, we were next to a Salvadoran couple who showed us images and videos of the current scene in San Salvador, where incredible crowds were celebrating and waiting with joy for the ceremony. The gates opened at 7:00am and everyone flooded into St. Peter’s Square. As we waited, tired but with eager anticipation, I looked around and appreciated the diversity of the crowd – a profound symbol of our global church. We were gathered in thanksgiving for the lives of one of the seven individuals being honored that day – all of whom had courageously dedicated themselves in service to God’s call.
Upon entering St. Peter’s, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the grandness of the Vatican and the portrait of St. Romero that hung from its exterior. My prayer that day was for the spirit of Romero to fill the whole church – empowering and guiding us closer to the mission of God: a mission embodied by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and made continually present by the lives of saints, prophets, and martyrs. In a church that has so frequently fallen short in its mission as a sacrament of liberation (to use the phrase of Jesuit martyr Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ), by making Óscar Romero a saint, the church (formally) lifted his life and ministry up as a model for discipleship, one that makes demands on all of us.
In his homily that day, Pope Francis said, “Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart…We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.” He continued by asserting that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters… All these saints, in different contexts, put today’s word into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all.”
It is this spirit, love, and passion that first drew me to Romero in such a profound way six years ago and ultimately helped me reconnect with my faith. This journey made my attendance at his canonization even more special. As I prepare to enter full-time ministry come graduation in May, I pray to God to be continually guided in a lifelong journey of conversion and discipleship, oriented toward God’s call for me, and with Saint Romero as source of hope.