About 60 people attended a reflection given by Fr. Jim O’Keefe, looking back on his recent pilgrimage to El Salvador and the the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The evening was held at All Saints in Denton Burn, Newcastle on 24 March, exactly 34 years since Romero’s martyrdom.
Fr. Jim spoke about Romero being from a poor background and how he played at being a priest from a young age, how he went on to be a serious young priest although slightly isolated from his fellow clerics until he was made Archbishop of El Salvador. After his friend Rutilio Grande was murdered “the scales fell from his eyes.” Only then did Romero fully appreciated the horror that stalked his flock. Drawing from the people he met, Fr. Jim held the rapt congregation for over an hour with stories of Romero’s life as well the atrocities that El Salvador suffered at the time.
The description of Romero’s final moments was as chilling in the retelling as it was shocking in 1980. Fr. Jim recounted how a gunman entered the church when the Archbishop was reciting the offertory prayer. As he replaced the host on the altar, a shot rang out and Romero fell at the foot of the crucifix behind the altar. Previously, Fr. Jim had told the congregation that Romero confessed to being afraid of two things, of being tortured and that his death might cause the death of others. God granted his wish to avoid both.
When Fr. Jim told how he was celebrating Mass at the same altar and at the same point in the Mass, the same church doors opened and two men in suits entered. Although history did not repeat itself, it was clear that he felt more than a little uneasy in the situation.
Following the talk, the congregation moved into the church hall for some Salvadorian inspired refreshments and to speak about what they had heard. Ged Naughton, who travelled from Consett to hear the talk said, “Romero always seems very human to me. The more you hear about him, the more you know his faults, but you keep hearing how he overcame them, or at least found a way to live with them. Because he was human, he was scared, but he managed to get over his fear and his inspiration stays with us.”
It was widely felt that an exceptional person had been celebrated, with everyone looking forward to when the Church will say “St. Oscar Romero, pray for us.”