Gathering remembers Blessed Romero for courage, love of God

Joseph Kenny | jkenny@archstl.org
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Bernarda Rendon describes herself as the daughter of "very poor" farmers in El Salvador.

She sometimes attended Mass at the cathedral in San Salvador, the capital of the Central American nation, and she came to know Archbishop Oscar Romero. He also celebrated Mass outside her parish as part of a fiesta there.

"When he spoke to us, the poor people ... he understood us," Rendon said at an ecumenical prayer service May 23 at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse celebrating the beatification of Blessed Romero that day in San Salvador.

She called him "a servant, very humble," a man who accepted a mission to speak out for the people, "a man of courage, a man of faith, a man of love of God."

"We had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we heard it from Msgr. Oscar Romero," Rendon said.

Rendon, who came to St. Louis in 1983 as a refugee fleeing violence in El Salvador, recalled the day Blessed Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel, the day after challenging the government and asking soldiers to stop killing innocent civilians. She was among the people who walked with his body in a funeral procession and remembered the sorrow as well as the joy at the number of people who were touched by him.

The prayer service in St. Louis recognized Blessed Romero as "a faithful and zealous pastor" whose great love for the Church was shown by his love for the poor and those most in need. The congregation prayed that they too may reflect the Gospel in their lives.

According to Freddy Chavez, president of Latinos en Axion and a member of St. Cecilia Parish in south St. Louis, Blessed Romero's criticism of the powerful and commitment to the poor cost him his life.

"He was the voice of the ones without a voice," Chavez said, adding that others need to respond to their mission as Blessed Romero did.

Three of five Nerinx Hall High School students who went on an eight-day service trip to El Salvador attended the service. Abby Carey finds it easy to "fall back into teenage self-absorption," she said, but the trip gave her a broader view of the struggles of people in other parts of the world. Maggie Sorensen agreed, vowing to be more involved in reaching out to others. Isabella Council said she has learned to be more socially aware.

Meg Olson, representing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, cited Blessed Romero's words about planting seeds that will help the poor help themselves. His vision of social justice is what the campaign is all about, she added, seeking justice through God's grace and a partnership with the poor.

The service included a ceremony distributing seeds -- symbols of a transformation into a "new life of justice, peace and love" and of Blessed Romero's words that "we plant seeds that one day will grow," and "we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise."

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