As you may be aware, CAFOD Westminster’s own Tony Sheen is currently on a pilgrimage to El Salvador with the Romero Trust. Here is his latest update on his experience:
“Tuesday 12th November
The rest of our pilgrims from the north of England arrived in the night, including Fr Jim O’Keefe and CAFOD Colleagues Rosa Trelfa and Anne Wilson. After a lovely Salvdoran breakfast of fried plantains, beans and rice, we headed off for a lovely morning prayer in the beautiful chapel. The liturgy was prepared by Martin Predergast and Sylvia Lucas from St Joseph’s parish, Bunhill Row, near the Barbican. We all take turns to introduce ourselves and share what brought us here and our expectations.
Morning visit to the Chapel at the Divine Providence Cancer Hospital
We head off by coach to the Hospital de la Divina Providencia. This is where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass on Monday, 24th March 1980. This was also his simple, modest living quarters where he lived in the grounds of the cancer hospital for three years while Archbishop. The cancer hospital is run by the Carmelite Sisters for the poor of the city who have no health insurance, and is very much a hospice.
As we sat in the hospital chapel, Julian retold the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s final days and Mass in the very place where he was shot 34 years ago. The chapel remains pretty unchanged since his death.
Every Sunday Romero’s homilies were broadcast on the radio and listened to across the country. The country was on the very brink of civil war and Romero was preaching regularly that it was not God’s will for the poor to be poor and face injustice, as it says in Luke: “He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor.”
The day before Romero died he preached in the cathedral what many believed to be an announcement of his own death sentence. During his homily he called on the Salvadoran army to “Lay down their arms and listen to the voice of God.”
The next evening he celebrated the 6pm Mass on Monday, 24th March 1980 in the Hospital de la Divina Providencia in memory of an assassinated journalist with a congregation of 25 people. During the Mass, Romero read the gospel from St John about “Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
After the homily at approximately 6.25pm, as Romero offered the gifts, a gunman pulled up at the back of the church in an unmarked car. Romero saw him take aim and fire, but didn’t call out so as not to endanger the congregation. A religious sister was recording the Mass, so there is actually a recording of the moment Romero was martyred, which Julian played to us all in the chapel. We then celebrated Mass in the very same Chapel.
Oscar Romero’s simple living quarters
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Romero decided not to live in a bishop’s palace next to the cathedral, but instead in a simple room in the grounds of the Carmelite cancer hospital next to the poor and sick.
Lunch with the Carmelite sisters, who lived alongside Romero
We then had lunch and a talk from Sister Maria Julio, a Carmelite sister whose order live and work beside the poor in the divine providence hospital. They provide care for the sick and dying who have no health insurance. The hospital is supported by donations from organisations such as the Romero Trust.”