Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez
The “red martyrdom,” the March 24, 1980, assassination of St. Romero, his archbishop, and the saint’s “white martyrdom,” a campaign of calumny against the future saint from inside the church.
‘I saw Archbishop Romero on a stretcher’: Salvadoran cardinal looks back in new book
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS)—In a candid account of his five decades in the Salvadoran church, the country’s first cardinal tells of calumnies against El Salvador’s St. Oscar Romero, but also of slights against him by other prelates, including one bishop who said, in notes to a Vatican ambassador, to not even “think of giving me a diocese.”
Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez has had one reason after another to despair in his 52 years as part of the Catholic clergy, but if there’s one thing he said he has learned in that time, it’s that “God writes straight in crooked lines,” as an old Spanish saying goes. That could easily have been the title of a long-form interview turned into a book by Rome-based Father Ariel Beramendi, a Bolivian priest who works on Spanish-language communications at the Vatican. He turned a series of questions and the cardinal’s recorded answers into the Spanish-language “Conversations with Cardinal Rosa Chávez” published in El Salvador in late November, available via Kindle in the U.S.
He describes his front-row seat to the evening of the “red martyrdom,” the March 24, 1980, assassination of St. Romero, his archbishop, and the saint’s “white martyrdom,” a campaign of calumny against the future saint from inside the church.
The cardinal’s answers, direct but with serenity, point to never losing hope, nor harboring resentment no matter what surrounded him: war, ideological attacks, calumny.
Against that drama, the cardinal almost hides his own rough seas in church waters, including with a Spaniard who ascended in 1995 to the Salvadoran archbishop’s post that St. Romero had occupied.
“You’re adults. You have your own judgment. Don’t be disabled. Get out from under the skirts of the church,” the cardinal describes Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle as saying in one of his first interactions with the press after his 1995 installation as archbishop of San Salvador.
When Archbishop Lacalle, who died earlier this year, told him to leave his residency, a room at the archbishop’s house, and assigned him to become the pastor of a church on the outskirts of the capital of San Salvador—even though he was San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop—the cardinal sees the moment as a blessing. It allowed him to grow closer to the poor, he said, but also mentions that other brother bishops saw the move as a punishment and “exile.”
From that parish, where he still lives, he told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 16 interview that he decided to collaborate with Father Beramendi because of “great worry that I haven’t written anything on my experience as a bishop.” He said he believed his account should be on the record because there is confusion and even attempts at erasing or offering a different version of what happened during an important time in the life of the Catholic Church in El Salvador.
“I wanted it to be out there for the record,” said Cardinal Rosa Chavez, who studied communications at the University of Louvain in Belgium and, for decades, directed church communications at the archdiocese. He said he wanted a clear record about what happened when it came to St. Romero’s conversion, his assassination and that of Father Grande, the role of the Catholic Church in El Salvador’s peace accords, whose meetings he attended, as well as his close relationship with St. Romero’s immediate successor, Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas.
The book relives the turmoil in the church, which reflected Salvadoran society, and the political polarization, which entered the institution. He also presents his humble upbringings as the son of a merchant, whose dream of being a priest he fulfilled via his son.
He also tells of finding a note, while reviewing documents ahead of a visit by St. John Paul II to El Salvador, in which a Spanish bishop, now dead, tells the nuncio not to assign him as the head of a diocese.
“He always greeted me amiably,” when they ran into one another in Rome, he said, “never having imagined that I read his note. I supposed he did it with honesty because he saw me as a dangerous bishop, a rebel, not apt to direct a diocese.”
But the book roots itself into the insight the cardinal has into St. Romero, those who influenced him and remained loyal to him and his figure as a prophet and those inside the church who dismissed the saint as a communist.
“For 20 years, Rome was misinformed on the matter of Romero,” including by some in the Salvadoran government who never had anything good to say about him, the cardinal said.
He said he is happy with the book, because it puts on paper matters that need clarity, but hopes to work on something more in-depth.
“This is kind of an appetizer,” he said.
Pope Francis Parts with Tradition & Names El Salvadoran Auxiliary Bishop, Gregorio Chavez, Cardinal
And Why? His Loyalty to St. Oscar Romero
In May 2017, Pope Francis ended the Angelus by announcing that he would create five new cardinals.
One of them was particularly surprising. Gregorio Rosa Chávez was not the head bishop of his diocese, and as a result, he became the first auxiliary bishop in history to be become a cardinal. He received the recognition for his devotion to his friend, the martyred Saint Oscar Romero.
CARD. GREGORIO ROSA CHÁVEZ
I come in his name to receive what he should have received, but God called him too soon and crowned him with martyrdom.
Cardinal Chavez and St. Oscar Romero lived through El Salvador’s civil war together. In 1979, the government began suppressing politicians, unionists and priests.
Saint Oscar Romero denounced the regime and fought its injustices until his death in 1980. He has since become known as the “red bishop.”
Author, “Conversations with Cardinal Rosa Chávez”
In Rome he had very bad press because from El Salvador, from the Embassy and other places, they sent reports about his actions. After his martyrdom, which led him to sainthood, the figure of Oscar Romero was essentially buried.
Immediately following his death, those closest to Saint Oscar Romero were ostracized.
Author, “Conversations with Cardinal Rosa Chávez”
Gregorio Rosa Chavez was a friend, a secretary and a confidant of the archbishop. As a result of that friendship, Gregorio Rosa Chavez was marginalized. He was sent to be parish priest at a remote parish while he was auxiliary bishop.
Cardinal Rosa Chávez was interviewed about this difficult period in Ariel Beramendi’s book “Conversations with Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez: Candidate for the Nobel Prize for Loyalty.” The book discusses how Cardinal Rosa Chávez’s life was affected by Saint Oscar Romero, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2018.
Author, “Conversations with Cardinal Rosa Chávez”
The book is a way to travel with Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez and discover his life: his adolescence, his vocation, his episcopate. And also, the difficulties he faced and later, being a cardinal.
The title of the book comes from Pope Francis’ 2019 visit to Panama. In a meeting with bishops, the Pope referred to Cardinal Rosa Chavez as “a candidate for the Nobel Prize for loyalty.”
I want to share this reflection with you on the figure of Romero. I know that among us there are people who knew him firsthand, such as Cardinal Rosa Chavez, who Cardinal Quarracino told me is “a candidate for the Nobel Prize for loyalty.”
The book also addresses issues within the Church when it was written in 2019 as well as today, such as opposition to Pope Francis and cases of abuse.
With it, new audiences can learn about the life of Gregorio Rosa Chavez and a piece of El Salvador’s history.
El Salvador has remained a torn country suffering waves of violence and creating well-known martyrs such as St. Óscar Romero, and thousands of lesser-known saints. Rosa Chávez, to this day an auxiliary bishop, was named a cardinal in 2017. Pope Francis’ cardinal picks are often extraordinary people far from the centers of clerical power and privilege.
Oscar A Romero
San Salvador, El Salvador, C. A.
(Seminario San Jose de la Montana)
San Salvador 18 de Noviembre/77.
Dear Senor Rainey:
First of all I want to congratulate you for the interest you take in collecting autographed photographs of representatives of the church in various countries. It is a way of making history through photographs, which contributes to the history of the Church in our times.
It is with great pleasure that I send you my autographed photograph for your collection.
Also with this I send you a publication about some homilies (preaching) of mine, so that you know broadly my way of thinking.
May the Lord grant you many blessings.
Affectionately in Christ
Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop
Quotes from Archbishop Oscar Romero, Salvadoran Martyr
During his three years as archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero became known as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering. His work on behalf of the oppressed earned him the admiration and love of the peasants he served and, finally, an assassin’s bullet.
When Pope Paul VI modified the meaning of penance for the Christian people, he said that there are different ways to understand the meaning of penance in the Christian life. Fasting is done in one way in developed countries, where people eat well, and another way in underdeveloped countries, where life is almost always lived in a fast. In this situation, he said, penance means to put austerity where there is much well-being and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering and efforts for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast. This is penance, this is God’s will.
“For those who love God, all things work for their good.” There is no misfortune, there are no catastrophes, there are no sorrows, however extraordinary, that cannot become crowns of glory and of hope when suffered with love for God.
Brothers and sisters, the church is not mistaken. The church awaits with certainty the hour of redemption. Those who have disappeared will reappear. The sorrows of these mothers will be turned into Easter. The affliction of this people, which knows not where it goes amid so much affliction, will become Easter resurrection if we join ourselves to Christ and hope in him.
Three men abducted; four victims of a tragic air accident; two peasants murdered after a demonstration: in recent days these are the expressive emblem of human suffering made more tragic by human wickedness.
Suffering will always be. It is a heritage of the first sin and a consequence of the other sins that God permits, even after the redemption. But the redemption converts them into power of salvation when suffering is undergone in union of faith, hope, and love with the Redeemer’s divine suffering and cross. Suffering is the shadow of God’s hand, which blesses and pardons; and suffering unites people in solidarity and draws them near to God.
But one could say of suffering what the Lord said of scandal: “Scandal indeed must come, but woe to the one through whom scandal comes!”
Suffering is something inherent to our very nature, but to cause to suffer is criminal. Only God, author and Lord of life and of humans’ happiness, has the right to take away life, or to measure, with due love and wisdom, his children’s capacity to be purified in the crucible of suffering and made worthy of bliss. Every hand that touches the life, liberty, dignity, tranquility, or happiness of persons, families, or peoples is sacrilegious and criminal. All bloodshed, all suffering, every injury caused to another person becomes an echo of God’s curse before the crime of Cain: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. You are under a curse.”
The church, with its message, with its word, will meet a thousand obstacles, just as the river encounters boulders, rocks, chasms. No matter; the river carries a promise: “I will be with you to the end of the ages” and: “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against the will of the Lord.