Singing praise to God, parishioners of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Jamaica, processed through the streets to celebrate the beatification of Salvadoran martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero. The festivities included the blessing of a painting of Romero, a Mass and cultural events.
The July 18 thanksgiving celebration also marked the first time San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas visited the parish. He was joined by Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, parish priests and diplomats from the consulates of El Salvador and Guatemala.
“We were delighted to accept the invitation from Father Manuel (de Jesus Rodriguez, pastor). To visit the Salvadoran community is great,” the archbishop said. “We are very proud to be celebrating the beatification and I’m very thankful for everything you do. It is a great testimony of faith.”
In his homily, he also thanked the community for the loving devotion to the late Archbishop Romero and added, “it is important to invoke his intercession to obtain the miracle that we need for him to be canonized.”
Father Rodriguez said his parishioners spent months planning this celebration, raising funds, organizing activities, preparing Salvadoran dishes, and commissioning the Blessed Romero painting from El Salvador.
“They are very happy celebrating something that is close to their own identity, which is so important in our journey of faith,” he said.
“This is a heavily Hispanic community; the Salvadorans are the second largest group, just after the Guatemalans,” he added. “The devotion to the memory of Archbishop Romero in our parish is so great… and now with the beatification you can imagine” their joy.
Blessed Romero was shot to death on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass at a small chapel in San Salvador. Before his assassination, Archbishop Romero, who had become a voice for the poor and oppressed, had asked soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians and to obey God’s higher order rather than the government’s violations of basic human rights. He was one of the 70,000 who died during El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted from 1979 until 1992.
Archbishop Escobar Alas said that Blessed Romero continues to be an inspiration to all because “he practiced the Gospel according to our time.”
“He is the saint of Vatican II, he is the saint of the church’s social doctrine, he is a saint for our time,” he said. “Amid all these social problems and injustices, we have an example to follow.”
Bishop Cisneros said that “the image of Oscar Arnulfo Romero is for everybody” and that following his message “means to follow Jesus in justice and the search for peace.”
The archbishop also acknowledged the controversy that has long shrouded canonization efforts. Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause began in the early ’90s. Three decades after his assassination, Pope Benedict XVI cleared the archbishop’s sainthood cause. Pope Francis declared him a martyr in February and Archbishop Romero inched one step closer to canonization by being declared blessed May 23. One miracle is still needed for him to be the first Salvadoran saint.
“To us Salvadorans it is a great honor to have our martyr beatified,” said Sandra Cruz, Consul General of El Salvador in New York.
Alfredo Guerra Cabrera, a Jamaica neighbor originally from El Salvador, came to celebrate this day. “Romero is a saint to me,” he said. “God allowed us to have that saint in our midst.”
Marta Quijano came from Canada to celebrate with the parish and her son, Father Carlos Quijano, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, Jackson Heights.
“Monseñor has granted me many miracles and I had to thank him,” she said recounting how in 1981 one of her sons was captured by the Salvadoran police and tortured before being freed. He also interceded to allow the rest of her family to emigrate in 1985.
“That is a miracle I have to thank him for,” she said. “I feel happiness and a sense of peace. I wanted to live to see him a saint.”
Parishioner Alma Escobar said, “Father Romero goes beyond borders, inspired by the message of continuing in faith.”
Leslie Marroquin, a parishioner from Guatemala, agreed.
“As Central Americans all of us need to be united because we have gone through the same struggles and we have had to migrate due to the political reasons,” she said.
Supporting each other “is a way to show love, peace and concern for one another just like Jesus Christ the One that we try to emulate,” she added.
Before heading for an outdoor dinner and cultural celebration, Archbishop Escobar Alas thanked Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Brooklyn auxiliary bishops and all the priests who welcome, minister and treat his people with kindness. “We also have you in our prayers,” he said.
The archbishop gifted everyone attending Mass with a prayer card for the canonization of Archbishop Romero, reminding people to contact the archdiocese in case of a miracle.
“Pray because now we have a new blessed man but we need to have a saint,” Father Rodriguez said.
Parishioners of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church celebrated the beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero with his successor. (Photos by Maria-Pia Negro Chin)