As today is the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, so it seems a good time to reprint my search for the Romero Cross in Southwark Cathedral from October 2013.
I was down at CAFOD HQ last week, so in my lunch break it was obvious where to go. Not for me the sandwich shop or the pub. No, was going to see the newly installed Romero Cross that stands in St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark, right next door to CAFOD office.
As I entered the cathedral by the side door, Mass was just ending, so once the priest and people were filing out, I wandered down towards the main altar. I expected to see the Cross in pride of place, perhaps behind the tabernacle but it wasn’t there. I went to the side altar which was closed off with ornate railings. But surely, Romero’s Cross couldn’t be held at a distance from the people? I have read of him sitting, patiently hearing the stories of the missing and the disappeared from their loved ones before taking to the radio to tell the world of their suffering.
It must be in the cathedral entrance, then. To welcome the faithful, the not so faithful, the sinners, the good, the bad, and the in-between to this magnificent building. Like Romero and Jesus himself, the Cross will seem to open its arms to welcome the world into the graces to be found within. But no. Again, I found nothing.
I was clearly mistaken, my knowledge of London isn’t great and I’d confused myself as to where the Cross had been placed. How could I have got it so wrong? As I’ve stated many times, I’m a big fan of Romero and this was to have been the highlight of my day in London. (Not to say that attending the meetings and workshops wasn’t important, of course.) I walked back towards the side door I’d come in by and had a last, almost desperate glance around the cathedral.
Then I saw a thin sliver of brightest yellow looking out of a side chapel. It looked so out of place and was illuminated by a shaft of sunlight. At once I knew that I’d found it. At 4 meters high, the Cross was squeezed in, but this would dominate any space. Not just by it’s physical size, but by it’s presence and the aura it gives off. The artist, a friend of Romero, Francisco Llort used the traditional style of Salvadorian art to decorate the Cross.
The front of the Cross is The Cross of the Resurrection, Christ greeting the whole world having overcome Death and redeeming us all. At his feet is a kneeling Romero, his head tilted, is he listening to his risen Lord, his belief vindicated? Just as he predicted, he is risen in the Salvadorian people but also with his Master, risen to everlasting life. He kneels above a village, showing his concern for the common people in who’s name he gave his life. God’s all-seeing eye is on the chest of Jesus and below, is a stalk of corn and a cup of chicha, a harvest drink made from corn, unrefined sugar and pineapple, representing the Eucharist. Above Christ’s head are a machete and the gathered harvest showing the dignity of work and the fruits of labour. At the very top of The Cross is a bird, the universal symbol of the Holy Spirit.
On the back of the Cross is the Cross of Ministry. Christ, his ever-loving heart exposed, greets the 5000 who He will feed with the loaves and fish above Him. Below, a crowd is assembled with a Bishop, showing the continuing mission of The Church and a tribute to Bishop Michael Evans (Co-founder of the Romero Trust and long time admirer of Romero.) Across the arms of the Cross is The Last Supper, backed by the mountains of El Salvador, the table on which Christ institutes the Eucharist, is made up of symbols representing the natural world. The bread and cup of communion is shown above the scene with the Tree of Life above them. Again, the Holy Spirit looks down from the top of the Cross.
As if the magnificence of the Cross wasn’t enough there are even greater treasures to be found. One of Romero’s zucchettos (skull-caps) is behind a glass panel, a piece of clothing that is so ordinary yet so special. But opposite the zucchetto is the greatest treasure. Enclosed in a reliquary is a piece of cloth, not much bigger than a postage stamp. It was clearly white but most of the area is now a dark pinky-brown colour. This is the priceless relic of Romero that I‘d sought out. A link from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I was just inches away from a fragment of the alb that Romero was wearing when he was killed. Inches away from the blood that was spilled as he raised the chalice to turn wine into the Blood of Christ. Inches away from the blood of Romero that mixed with the Blood of his Saviour as he lay dying, his last words forgiving his assassin.
In the small chapel there are two seats with kneelers facing the Cross. On each seat there are prayer cards, for the visitor to pray to Romero to intercede for their intentions. On the back of one, there is a quote from Romero:
“If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities.
Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted onto Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection.
That is a person’s measure.”
In life, Romero was firmly grafted to Christ, in death he continues to draw others to the life, death and resurrection of his risen Lord.
I was so pleased to have found the Cross, so moved by it and so grateful to be allowed so close to even a small piece of someone I admire so greatly.
St. Georges Cathedral, Southwark is next to CAFOD’s Head Office. The full address is: St George’s Cathedral Southwark, Cathedral House, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HY