New documentary reveals rare interview of Blessed Oscar Romero

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By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A new documentary about Blessed Oscar
Romero, featuring a rare interview with him, revealed the martyred archbishop’s
thoughts regarding accusations that he became too progressive.

Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez shared an excerpt of the
interview with
journalists during a briefing Oct. 11 at the Vatican press office.

“We had never heard this before because it was dubbed
in German. We waited 40 years to find out what Archbishop Romero said,”
Cardinal Rosa Chavez said.

The
cardinal, who directed the documentary “Oscar Romero: A Shepherd According to the Heart of Christ,”
explained that in 1979
a Swiss television crew visited the future saint and asked to follow him for
one week.

Blessed Romero’s response to a question regarding the fact
that he “changed from a conservative bishop to a progressive bishop,”
he said, is a question “that has caused so much debate” and is now
answered by the slain archbishop himself.

“I don’t think there has been a substantial change,”
Archbishop Romero said in
the interview. “It is more of an evolution in accordance with the
circumstances. My goal as a priest has always been to be faithful to the
vocation, to the service of the church and the people.”

Although the Salvadoran archbishop did not view his support
of the poor and the oppressed as support for a political ideology, rumors
abounded both in the halls of El Salvador’s right-wing government and in the
corridors of the Vatican.

Cardinal Rosa Chavez told journalists that the same year the
documentary was filmed, Blessed Romero met with the newly elected pope, St.
John Paul II.

The meeting, the cardinal said, was “disconcerting for
Romero” because the pope scolded him for his lack of harmony with the
Salvadoran bishops. At the time, several reports from the Salvadoran bishops’
conference were sent to the Pope John Paul accusing Romero of causing division.

In his diary entry following the meeting, Blessed Romero
said that he was “worried to see how much the negative reports of my
pastoral work had influenced the pope.”

However, Cardinal Rosa Chavez explained, after Blessed Romero’s
martyrdom, St. John Paul realized the inaccuracy of the reports. The pope even visited the
slain archbishop’s tomb in 1983 against the wishes of the Salvadoran government
and local church leaders.

“The pope went to the Blessed Sacrament and then to
Romero’s tomb where he prostrated in prayer; I was very close to him and the
pope said, ‘Romero is a saint,'” the cardinal recalled.

The documentary featured footage of the Salvadoran
archbishop visiting El Paisnal,
the hometown of Jesuit
Father Rutilio Grande
and the church where he was buried alongside two local farmers who were killed
with him.

Father Grande, a close friend of Blessed Romero, was known
as a champion of the poor and the oppressed at a time when El Salvador was on
the threshold of a civil war, a war that eventually killed over 70,000 people.

Father Grande’s death in 1977 at the hands of El Salvador’s
notorious death squads is believed to have been the inspiration for Archbishop
Romero to take up the mantle of defending the poor.

In his interview with Swiss television, Blessed Romero said
that there “has never been such a violent circumstance as it was for me
when I arrived at the archdiocese. When I arrived, they were expelling priests
and the month after my arrival, they killed Father Rutilio Grande.”

Standing in the church where his dear friend was laid to
rest, Archbishop Romero prayed, “May the blood so sorrowfully shed of this
dear brother, Father Rutilio, together with his two farmer friends — Nelson
Rutilio (Lemus) and Manuel (Solorzano) — signify a fruitful wellspring that
continues to bear fruit.”

Blessed Romero told the Swiss journalist that it was not
only Father Grande’s death that pushed him to become more outspoken, but also
“the need to defend the church that is so persecuted to the point of
murdering priests.”

Both reasons, he said, “push me toward a more powerful
ministry in defense of the rights of the church and the rights of men and
women.”

Asked if he was scared that he would be killed like his
friends, Blessed Romero admitted that while he did have a “prudent concern”
about threats to his life, he did not experience a “fear that inhibits me,
that prevents me from working.”

“I feel that while I walk along fulfilling my duty,
while I go around freely being a shepherd to the communities, God is with me,”
he said. “And if something happens to me, then I am prepared for
everything.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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