On Wednesday we had our penultimate public lecture. It was given by Jan Graffius, the Curator of Collections at Stonyhurst College and explored the witness of Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Archbishop Romero was executed as he celebrated Mass in 1980 on account of his courage in challenging the death squads and corruption of the time. Jan Graffius was charged with the task of preserving Archbishop's Romero's belongings and creating display cases for his relics.
Just last year, Archbishop Romero was beatified. It is well worth reading Pope Francis's letter on the occasion. El Salvador in the 1980s was a small, forgotten place, a place where savage evil was unleashed. But it is in such times that great holiness is also born. The whole country was run by a narrow oligarchy of families who amassed political, military, economic, religious and social control. Jan argued that poverty doesn't just happen; it comes about through human acts of omission and commission, and it is intensified by ignorance and the failure to consider the common good. During the bloody civil war, 75,000 people died, many killed in the welter of lawlessness that engulfed the country, a country overrun with drug cartels and death squads. The murder of a fellow priest had a revolutionary effect upon Archbishop Romero's heart; his witness became a Gethsemane moment for Romero. He knew he was called to be the good shepherd, laying down his life for his flock, identifying with them and suffering for them. On the radio, he railed against the 'empire of hell' and began his how journey to Golgotha.
Jan brought with her a triptych containing a relic of Blessed Romero. Apart from the beauty of the artistry, the script on the triptych records the readings of the day and his homily at the Mass at which he was executed. The words are prophetic. As the Archbishop offered the bread and wine, a sniper appeared at the back of the chapel. Romero saw the sniper, paused, and was killed. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.