“The last time we ever saw anything like this was when Pope John Paul II visited in 1983,” writes Filippo Casabianca, from El Salvador. It is a land with a population of 6 million people in an area of 21 thousand km2 that had amongst its sons this bishop who is widely recognized as one of the most important ecclesial figures of the American continent.
The Cause had been opened by Bishop Rivera y Damas, his successor as shepherd of the Diocese, on the tenth anniversary of his death on March 24, 1980. That was the year Marita Sartori and Carlo Casabeltrame visited three Franciscan friars who had begun to spread the ideal of unity in El Salvador.
In that tragic decade, which opened with the murder of Archbishop Romero and culminated with the murder of 7 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, the Focolare Movement spread in an extraordinary way in several points of the country, in the midst of a theatre of war. The women’s focolare was opened in 1989 in spite of the danger for the foreign focolarine who went to live there. Since then the country has been through a process that led to the signing of a peace treaty in 1992, and then to a more democratic form of governement with some political stability, but not the long desired reconciliation that today is expressed in a destructive polorization. To this is added the scourge of insecurity because of the proliferation of young criminal gangs and of large segments of the country.
The Focolare community are involved in many projects in support of disadvantaged families, through programmes of the New Families Project and the Action for a United World, that have allowed hundreds of children to complete their education supported by the projects of educational centres for poor children, and through interventions in one at-risk quarter for the promotion of social integration. With Romero’s Beatification the awareness of an historic opportunity has grown amongst the people. His message is being preceived as a medicine that could contribute to overcoming opposing views, healing hearts that have been hardened by resentment, and provide what is most necessary in the process of reconciliation.
Maribel remarks: “It is a challenge that begins with following the example of Archbishop Romero, which for me continues to help me and my students to nurture peace and justice in people’s hearts
.” Whereas, for Amaris: “the celebration will have to give way to reconciliation that lies in forgiving and asking to be forgiven, to heal wounds that are still festering.” Commitment to unity and reconciliation have always been present in the Focolare community, but now they take on the new connotation of a mandate in light of the heroic witness of Archbishop Romero “who knew how to weep with those who weep,” Flora Blandon observed, “and rejoice with those who had a reason to rejoice.
The Beatification is the recognition of his life that was anchored in love.” In the messages sent by Pope Francis to the current Archbishop of El Salvador, Josè Luis Escobar Alas, the Pope calls Romero “one of the best sons of the Church,” attributing him with the characteristics of the Good Shepherd who was so dear to him. “Because (God) had bestowed upon the bishop martyr the capacity to see and listen to the suffering of his people and to shape his heart that, in his name, he might guide and illumine.” Francis also also recognised his exemplarity and invited all to encounter in the figure of Romero “strength and courage for building the Kingdom of God and being involved in the search for a more dignified and equal social order.”