Oscar Romero

[Except for four new paragraphs at the beginning, this is a slightly revised excerpt from a sermon preached by Bill Lewellis in 2010.]

Almost a year before I left the Roman Catholic Church, Oscar Romero became one of my heroes. Onetime Archbishop of El Salvador, he was assassinated at the altar on March 24, 1980.

Pope Francis recently announced that he would declare Romero saint of the universal church in a ceremony in the Vatican on Oct. 14, 2018.

The Episcopal Church had added him to our book of saints, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, now Holy Women, Holy Men. He was attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, in Love … and, when necessary, he changed.

Ironically, it was his change that got him into trouble with the institutional church. Many holy women and holy men experienced that. Does make one wonder. Pope Francis recognized that.

A conservative bishop who sided with the local power brokers who kept the poor oppressed, Oscar Romero was made archbishop in 1977 as a “compromise” candidate who was not impressed with Vatican II renewal.

When he was named archbishop, the local liberation theology Jesuits threw up their hands and wrote him off. They had been asserting heroically by their ministry that “the contemporary church must wield not only the teaspoons of charity, but also the bulldozers of justice, and become the voice of the voiceless.”

Over the next few years, however, especially after personally witnessing early morning clean up of bloodstained corpses on San Salvador's streets, victims of paramilitary death squads, and the slaying of his good friend, Father Rutilio Grande, Romero became a powerful critic of those in power who sanctioned atrocities.

When his Jesuit friend was gunned down in his jeep, Romero cancelled all services in San Salvador the following Sunday except for a single Mass outside the San Salvador Cathedral, celebrated with 100,000 people. His repentance and transformation accelerated after these and other events turned him around the bend. Reprisals intensified, while right-wing groups were leafleting the nation: Be a patriot: kill a priest.

“Romero's journey was not easy,” Canon Andrew Gerns at Trinity Easton on the 30th anniversary of Romero's martyrdom. “He was not raised to be a radical. He was raised in privilege and was appointed to care for the church in his archdiocese in a rather conventional way. Appoint priests, oversee schools, manage the books...don’t rock the boat. But he had a heart for faith and was willing to go where Jesus led him. At first tentatively, and later boldly, he began to connect the dots. He believed that the job of the church was to care for the weakest of God’s people. For Romero, this was a death sentence.”

We may not be able to point to any one event during which Romero was born again. As it is said of most Episcopalians, he was born again and again and again ... transformed, transformed, transformed and transformed. Not long after his incremental transformations – and actions taken in line with his transformation – Romero was shot on March 24, 1980, in the shadow of the cross.

For those of us who have read Mountains Beyond Mountains, it might be enough to note that Dr. Paul Farmer, living at Duke University when Romero was murdered, marks his own conversion and transformation from that event, from the witness and transformation of one man. Farmer, a Harvard doctor, reinvented international healthcare to bring medicine and healing to the poor in Haiti, Rwanda, Russia, Peru, Mexico and other nations.

Diocesan Life for May 2011

You can download the .pdf version if you like below:

Where Charisma and Order Meet is Where We Are Born Again

A Sermon for Chrism Mass
Diocese of Bethlehem
Cathedral Church of the Nativity
Thursday, April  14, 2011
The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
John 3:1-17

There is a little boy that I know who loves gadgets. He loves to learn and understand how they work. He loves to watch them in action. When his family buys a new appliance or tool, he will want to know all about how it works, and think up reasons why he should run the air conditioner with the remote or vacuum something or wash a dirty towel.

Lest you think that this a housekeeping Godsend, every mother’s dream, consider this: he disdains picture books and the usual children’s literature and would much rather read the instruction—or better yet, the service—manuals for all these contraptions. Out loud. Right now.

He especially loves the troubleshooting guides in those manuals. And when you try to distract him from his need to tell you or any of his siblings in graphic detail all the possible solutions to any potential problem by saying something like “when something happens, you will be the first person I call” he will say to you in all seriousness “But if you wait until it’s broken, it will be too late.”

Don’t ask me why, but I really identify with this kid…and not just because I am A-V kid emeritus. I really love his enthusiasm when something new, shiny and fascinating comes along. I love that he wants to know how things works…he wants to understand. It is not enough to know what button does what but how each function happens. And I love how he wants to tell everyone about the new gadget in great, energetic, fascinated detail.

This wonderful little boy and the family he inhabits dramatize a truth about Christian community.  When we “get” something, we want everyone to “get it”. And when we have found what works we want to understand and manage it.

Continue reading "Where Charisma and Order Meet is Where We Are Born Again" »

Chrism Mass at Cathedral – Thursday, April 14 at 11:00

[From Bishop Paul]

In most places in the Christian world, the renewal of ordination vows and blessing of oils for the year are private services. In Bethlehem our liturgy is public, lay people are urged to be present, and there is a free lunch.

So why should you accept this invitation?

1) Besides the fact that it is a stunning and uplifting liturgy, it is your chance to be with other members of the diocese as we support and pray for our clergy as they re-commit themselves to to their service to us. It is also the time when together we pray over the oils that are used with the sick and at baptism and confirmation--each time those oils are applied, they represent the prayers of the entire diocese. Those of you with special ministries of healing and teaching will particularly want to be present.

2) Amazing Ecumenical Visitors
Both the Bishop of the NE PA Synod of the ELCA and the President of the Eastern District of the Moravian Church will be present and for the first time, all three traditions will be represented in an Episcopal liturgy. This is history being made.

3) It is yet another opportunity to connect with sisters and brothers from around the diocese as we share lunch. The more connection we have, the better we function.

4) Pilgrimage
In some ways, those who travel the farthest for this event will reap the most benefit. When we travel to do something, we change as we go; this is why the ancient practice of pilgrimage still has so much meaning.  But whether you are crossing the street or crossing the mountains, making the effort to be at this service will bless you.

To let us know how much lunch to make, your priest will need to know how many are coming, so if you won't be there Sunday to raise your hand at announcement time, let him/her know otherwise, as we need a count on Monday.

I look forward to being with you on this important day.


PS: There will be modest but fun prizes for the children of church that comes the farthest, has the largest percent of its Average Sunday Attendance present, and largest number of attendees.