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The Ongoing Legacy of Oscar Romero View Comments
By Peter Feuerherd

LAST MARCH, as the city of San Salvador began its weeklong commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s death, the souvenir T-shirts were abundant, worn by locals and visiting pilgrims alike. They were hot sellers in the stalls surrounding the downtown cathedral. There, Romero’s body lies in a crypt where everyday campesinos (native farmers) come, light candles, touch his tomb and metaphorically whisper in his ear, beseeching favors.

“As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am murdered, I will arise again in the Salvadoran people,” reads one popular shirt. The shirt bears the archbishop’s words and his bespectacled image above a map of the New Jersey-sized nation where more than 75,000 people perished in the civil war of the 1980s.

Romero, killed by soldiers while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980, was an atypical victim, if one judges by his elevated position. But he joined thousands of others far less famous, from human-rights lawyers to union organizers to campesinos, as well as three North American sisters and a laywoman missionary, whose deaths have never been legally addressed in El Salvador. No one has ever been convicted of the murder of the archbishop.

Romero remains alive in the hearts of Salvadorans. Three decades later, tens of thousands crowded the downtown streets in a march to the cathedral, shouting, “Viva Romero.” Long an unofficial national hero, he has been formally embraced by the country’s new government. At the country’s only airport, international visitors are welcomed with an official mural depicting the archbishop.

President Mauricio Funes, elected in 2009, joined last year’s commemoration march, the first Salvadoran president to do so, and has formally apologized for the government’s role in the murder. During his inaugural address, he asked that his administration be judged by the standards set by Romero.

While Romero's prophetic witness stirred divisions within the Church when he was alive—some of his auxiliary bishops cautioned that he went too far in defending the poor—his cause for sainthood is being pursued by the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

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Peter Feuerherd is now communications director for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. Previously, he taught journalism at St. John’s University. He attended the commemoration last March.

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Katharine Drexel: If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. 
<p>She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. </p><p>She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s <i>A Century of Dishonor</i>. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. </p><p>Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. </p><p>She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” </p><p>After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. </p><p>Two saints met when Katharine was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. </p><p>At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.</p> American Catholic Blog Our task during these forty days is to examine our lives in light of God’s Word and see where we’ve allowed darkness to creep in, where we’ve taken the bait of the diabolical fisher of men. It’s time to use the sword of the Spirit to cut through his web of deception, to free ourselves from the net that holds us as prey.


 
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