On the eve of Romero’s beatification, drones, fireworks, and a city abuzz

A drone flies over a large poster of Archbishop Oscar Romero near the square of the Monument of the Divine Savior in San Salvador, where he will be beatified pm Saturday (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

A drone flies over a large poster of Archbishop Oscar Romero near the square of the Monument of the Divine Savior in San Salvador, where he will be beatified on Saturday (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Four Latin American presidents from neighboring Panama, Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala and six cardinals are expected to attend tomorrow’s beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The six cardinals are: Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras, Leopoldo Brenes of Nicaragua, Jaime Ortega of Cuba, Jose Luis Lacunza of Panama, Roger Mahony of the U.S. and Italian Angelo Amato, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as well as Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator of Archbishop Romero’s cause.

“There have been people inspired by Romero for 35 years. How do you think they feel right now?” said Father Estefan Turcios, parish priest of El Salvador’s St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Soyapango.

Members of Archbishop Romero’s family are expected to attend, including Gaspar Romero, his brother who is expected to place flowers around the relic, the shirt that soaked up the archbishop’s blood as he died in the middle of Mass after being shot. A document chronicling the atrocities committed by both sides of the country’s 12-year conflict will be offered during the ceremony, in hopes of reconciliation of a terrible moment in history.

The humming of cars, pounding of hammers and fireworks (some in celebration of the beatification, but others in honor of the Virgin Mary in the month of May) have given San Salvador, the capital, reason to feel festive, even when there’s little celebrate because of spiraling gang violence in the country.

Though the ceremony is tomorrow, a Friday evening vigil has been organized with Mass scheduled to be celebrated at the site of the beatification by Cardinal Rodriguez of Honduras at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Drones are flying over the Monument to the Divine Savior where the beatification will take place, and images, as well as the voice of the man many already consider a saint are everywhere you look.

Jesuit Father Miguel Angel Vasquez Hernandez, of Arcatao, in northern El Salvador, said the archbishop would probably have felt taken aback with such a ceremony, which is expected to cost about $1 million and is expected to be attended by 200,000 to 250,000.

The best way to honor him, he said, is to work for peace and justice in El Salvador, and in other parts of the world afflicted by poverty, war, violence, oppression and economic injustice.

Pope visits Curia offices; we go on stakeout

VATICAN CITY — As his efforts to reform the Roman Curia continue, Pope Francis is personally visiting the existing offices, praying, meeting all the personnel, listening to their explanations of what they do and responding to their questions.

All I got was a wave.

With about a dozen other reporters and photographers, I was on stakeout duty this morning. The crafty pope, though, likes to show up early for things. His visit was announced for “after 9 a.m.” and he was inside by 8:50 a.m.

9:30 a.m. All is calm outside, but the pope is inside.

9:30 a.m. All is calm outside, but the pope is inside.

From the outside, there was no sign of a special visitor, and initially no extra police presence.

Pope Francis’ four-hour visit started on the upper floors of the building at Piazza Pio XII (Pius XII Square, usually referred to as the taxi stand outside of St. Peter’s Square), and worked his way down, accompanied by one member of the Vatican police force.

Norbertine Father Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was the first to host the pope, explaining what the small committee does.

The pope’s next visit was to the much larger Congregation for Catholic Education, where the prefect-emeritus, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, welcomed him. The cardinal told our colleagues at I.Media, that the meeting was “spontaneous” and “very fraternal.”

“We presented our projects and our work,” he said, and Pope Francis spoke insistently about the importance of a Catholic identity at church-run schools and institutions.

Next it was the turn of the Congregation for Clergy and, again, staff members reported a very warm, relaxed atmosphere.

Finally, the pope visited the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

By mid-morning, the number of tourists and pilgrims outside the building had grown, and two plainclothes officers from the Italian state police showed up. They were nice, but not particularly helpful. When I asked one to go in and ask the pope to come speak to us, he reminded me that as an Italian state official, he was not allowed to enter Vatican property without an invitation.

At a certain point, I thought I should take a picture of the pope's car. (At least I didn't waste film.)

At a certain point, I thought I should take a picture of the pope’s car. (At least I didn’t waste film.)

Pope Francis left the building just after 1 p.m. He was sitting in the front passenger seat of a blue Ford Focus. I waved instead of taking photos; he waved back, but did not roll down the window or stop for a chat. A few seconds later, the car was stuck in a typical midday traffic jam to the delight of the guy on a moped who was stuck next to him. Once free, the pope’s car passed the station of the Italian state police where several officers did what I had done; they, too, were rewarded with a wave.

The visits to Vatican offices are scheduled to continue June 1 with a drop-in on the congregations for Bishops, Saints’ Causes and Divine Worship and the Sacraments, as well as the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The spring visits appear to be an organized attempt to visit all the Curia offices, but they are not his first foray into Curia territory. The pope has been a frequent visitor to the offices of the Synod of Bishops, which are outside the Vatican walls at Via della Conciliazione 34.

A month after his election in March 2013, he visited the offices of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Over the months, visits followed to the Vatican motor pool, a workshop and the employee’s cafeteria.

 

Pope Francis' blue Ford Focus with its "SCV" plate gets stuck in the traffic, but the moped guy waves. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis’ blue Ford Focus with its “SCV” plate gets stuck in the traffic, but the moped guy waves. (CNS/Paul Haring)

 

U.S. student choir livens things up in Vatican press hall

By Laura Ieraci

VATICAN CITY — The usual frenetic sound in the Vatican press hall of journalists hammering away at their computer keyboards was briefly muted yesterday by the powerful and soulful voices of the Walsh University Chamber Singers.

The 26 students, who travelled to Rome from North Canton, Ohio, popped into the press hall after the papal audience for an impromptu concert.

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The journalists welcomed the change of pace; some recorded the students’ performance of a Gospel hymn and of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria in four-part harmony on their cell phones. The choir is directed by Britt Cooper, an associate professor of music at Walsh.

At the papal audience earlier that morning, the students belted out a 45-second tune for Pope Francis when the master of ceremony announced their presence in St. Peter’s Square. Somewhat bittersweet, Pope Francis rode into the square on his popemobile at that very moment, and the cheers of excited pilgrims blotted out their voices.

Their enthusiasm, however, seemed hardly dampened during their performance in the press hall, which took place after a spontaneous request by Danilo Mori, the director of the university’s Italy campus.

The singers were in Rome on their May 2015 Italy Tour; the choir’s first Italy tour was in 2011.

The 2015 tour schedule included several performances at sacred sites, including at Mass at the basilicas of Santa Maria Novella in Florence for Pentecost, May 24, and St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome May 26. They were also to perform at a Memorial Day event at the American Cemetery in Nettuno, about 40 miles outside Rome.

But the choir has welcomed every opportunity to sing — planned or not — performing spontaneously at different sites they have visited, said Mori.

Mori said the choir members are not necessarily music majors, but they are committed to music, practicing six hours per week and polishing their repertoire, which includes songs in English, Italian, French and Latin.

Walsh is a Catholic university, located in the Diocese of Youngstown and founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in 1960. It has about 4,000 students.

The university opened a campus in Italy in 2007, located on 10 acres of land in Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome. About 100 students from Walsh come to Italy each year to take part in the fall, spring and summer programs, which offer them an opportunity to “come into contact with the Catholic world and the Catholic identity close-up,” said Mori.

 

 

A beatification for the 21st century

Father Estefan Turcios, a Salvadoran priest, is interviewed about Archbishop Oscar Romero via Skype by a TV station in Quito, Ecuador. (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

Father Estefan Turcios, a Salvadoran priest, is interviewed about Archbishop Oscar Romero via Skype by a TV station in Quito, Ecuador. (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — If you can’t be in El Salvador for Saturday’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, not to worry. The Internet will bring it right to you. From Instagram photos, to blogs and tweets, Facebook updates and free downloadable prayer cards and posters, the event will reach a global audience bigger than the 200,000 to 260,000 expected to attend the ceremony in this Central American nation of 6 million.

Karla Orozco, of the beatificacionromero.org office at the Archdiocese of San Salvador, has handled much of the social media preparation of the event, including getting priests, religious and journalists credentialed online. There have been inquiries from places such as Switzerland, Rome, London, as well as from many neighboring countries, about the event, she said. Using www.beatificacionromero.org, a small team of four, as well as young volunteers who trickle in and out, have handled online inquiries from abroad, she said, getting out information about how to watch in online, what feeds to follow, posting photos and videos about the goings-on.

The office instituted hashtags, in English and Spanish, educating digital natives interested in the beatification months before the event, and almost as soon as news that the beatification would take place went out.

Elsa Flores Portillo, of Washington, D.C., and a native of El Salvador, said she keeps up with news about the event by following @MonsRomeroBeato, the beatification office’s Twitter feed. She plans to watch a livestream at her parish on Sunday, along with others who can’t make it to El Salvador for the event.

The use of the modern media being used to move news of his beatification might be a fitting tribute to Archbishop Romero. Though he lived simply, among the few remaining belongings left in a room where he lived as archbishop, visitors will notice a tape recorder. He kept an audio diary — high technology for those days, and an instrument to transmit the Gospel to a mass audience.

To follow the beatification via Twitter, you can follow the #BeatificacionRomero hashtag in Spanish, #RomeroBeatification in English.

For more on the Saturday beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, follow@CNS_Rhina on Twitter

At Romero’s beatification, offertory includes document of war’s atrocities

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – One of the offertory items at Saturday’s beatification ceremony of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero is a copy of a document generated during the peace accords that ended the country’s 12-year civil war in 1992.

“De la locura a la esperanza,” or “From madness to hope,” chronicles some of the greatest human rights atrocities committed by both sides of the armed conflict in the Central American nation.

The document lists the numerous disappearances as well as massacres, such as the one in the town of El Mozote, where about 800 unarmed civilians, including many children, were murdered in 1981. It also tells of the 1980 murder and rape of four women religious from North America.

The report was written by the Commission for Truth for El Salvador.

It will be offered “as our commitment to continue to work toward peace so that it can firmly be established in our country,” said an official from the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

Other items in the offertory include flowers and what’s called a “basic basket” filled with goods essential for a person to meet his or her basic needs each day, what he or she needs for a healthy life, physically and mentally. It is something that still eludes many Salvadorans.

For more on the Saturday beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, follow @CNS_Rhina on Twitter

A report about the atrocities committed during El Salvador's 12-year civil war will be one of the offertory items at the beatification ceremony for Archbishop Oscar Romero this Saturday.

A report about the atrocities committed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war will be one of the offertory items at the beatification ceremony for Archbishop Oscar Romero this Saturday.

Changing locations: An intern’s final reflection on his time in Rome

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — This is my last post for CNS — at least for the time being — so I’m going to get sentimental. I want to compare the first time I attended Pope Francis’ general audience in March to my most recent attendance, which was yesterday.

The first time I went to the audience, I found myself nestled in the crowd, vision blocked by a young man taking a selfie:

first time seeing Francis

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

Two months later, I was past the barricades at the very front of the crowd with a team of professional photojournalists:

Pope Francis audience

Pope Francis walking past photojournalists at his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

How was this change in location possible, you ask? Well, it took months of learning about the Vatican and how it operates, writing stories about all things Catholic, and developing a journalistic persistence that I observed in every journalist at the Vatican.

Usually quite reserved, this professional confidence didn’t come naturally to me, but is the product of dedicated guidance from my wonderful colleagues at Catholic News Service. I am sad to say goodbye, even though I cannot wait to return home Saturday. This bittersweet feeling comes from a realization that these past three months working in Rome have changed me.

I have become more spiritual, in the sense that I study sacred Scripture more often, and know significantly more about the Catholic Church than when I arrived.

I am also unafraid of being the new guy in a new place anymore. In fact, I’ve grown to appreciate newness, that feeling of temporary discomfort that is often more exciting than being completely familiar with a situation.

Changing locations teaches you a lot about yourself and makes you appreciate things you might never have realized you had access to. Peanut butter, for instance, isn’t nearly as available in Rome as it is in America. However, you quickly learn to love everything the city does have to offer, such as Rome’s selection of every Nutella product you can think of.

At Pope Francis’ audience on Wednesday, he spoke of three phrases that can improve family life, one of which is “Thank You.” Thank you, he said, expresses gratitude, and helps maintain meaningful relationships. Thankfulness is “the language of God,” he said.

In this light, I am so grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with this semester abroad. I don’t know when I’ll ever have an experience so meaningful again, but if there’s one thing I learned from this trip, it’s that anything is possible when you believe in yourself. As a friend at CNS once told me, as soon as you convince yourself that you’re capable of something, it’s much easier to convince others of the same. (Pope Francis clearly waving to me:)

wave Francis

Pope Francis in the popemobile during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

So with that, here’s “goodbye” and “thank you” Rome, Vatican City, and Catholic News Service. Arrivederci!

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. 

Red vestments, and a bloodstained relic at Oscar Romero’s beatification

Organizers of the beatification of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero say they expect 200,000 to 260,000 to attend the May 23 event in El Salvador.

Archbishop Romero was fatally shot March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass. Often invoking the Gospel, he called for a stop to the violence and killing of civilians during the country’s civil war. More than 70,000 died in the conflict, which lasted from 1979 until 1992.

Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, looks at the vestments bishops and priests will wear for the beatification of El Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero on May 23.  (Photo courtesy of Beatificación Romero)

Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, looks at the vestments bishops and priests will wear for the beatification of El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero on May 23. (Photo courtesy of Beatificación Romero)

In February, Vatican officials said Archbishop Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” and officially declared him a martyr.

The beatification ceremony will be at 10 a.m. local time at the Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo (or Divine Savior of the World Plaza) in the bustling city center of the country’s capital, San Salvador.

The altar will have a relic, part of the shirt Archbishop Romero wore when he was fatally shot and which subsequently soaked up some of the martyr’s blood, officials said. The stage also will have a large image of Our Lady of Peace, the patroness of El Salvador. Organizers said they have arranged a VIP area for the poor, for peasants, for the country’s indigenous people — all those Archbishop Romero favored.

Televisión Católica de El Salvador, the country’s Catholic TV station, will livestream the ceremony at http://tvcaelsalvador.org. Catholic News Service will tweet live here at 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Organizers say they expect 200 bishops, 1,200 priests and six cardinals to attend. They will wear red vestments, signifying martyrdom, with Archbishop Romero’s episcopal motto: “sentir con la iglesia,” or “feel with the church,” also translated as “to think with the church.”

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