Coronavirus impacting martyrs' celebrations in El Salvador - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Stations of the cross in Concepción celebrating St. Romero, the venerable Padre Rutilio and companions. The sign behind the image of St. Romero reads “La Voz de los sin voz” (The Voice of the voiceless).

Here in El Salvador, we had planned major celebrations to commemorate the 40th anniversary of St. Óscar Romero’s martyrdom, which will be on Tuesday, March 24. Unfortunately, now that we have a national quarantine in place because of the coronavirus crisis, all big events have been cancelled. But in our parish, as throughout the country we are still trying to keep people aware, informed, praying and celebrating at home through social and other media.

In our parish of Monte San Juan, near Cojutepeque, we started celebrating a novena for St. Romero more than nine days before the March 24 anniversary, because we anticipated including a deanery celebration on the weekend. The first day of the novena was Friday Mar 13. We incorporated the celebration into the Stations of the Cross, which is held in every one of the dozen villages of the parish.

In the village where I live we used the “Romero Stations of the Cross,” which features the saint’s own words as reflections for each station. I helped with posters of St. Romero and of Padre Rutilio Grande and his companions, who were recently declared martyrs and whose anniversary was just the day before.

Wilber (front left) and his family in Stations, Monte San Juan, celebrating St. Romero

I also attended the Stations in the main town of Monte San Juan, and there we also had readings of Romero’s own words. I had different youth take turns carrying the poster in the procession. Wilber (in one picture) was especially thrilled to do so.

The second evening of the novena I gave a presentation on Romero in my village chapel, using some video clips, so people could actually see him and hear the voice that became known as “the voice of the voiceless.”

One of the older fellows attending knew Monseñor Romero, as they affectionately call him, and recalled going to San Salvador to ask him to come to Monte San Juan—he thought it was in 1978—to celebrate a festival since the pastor had had to leave during the days of the repression.

Romero came, but only about 10 local people showed up because this is an area that was more on the side of the military. Of course, many others came from other places as it was a big festival that normally attracted outsiders. Interestingly, younger people commented that there are still a lot of people here who don’t look so favorably on Romero.

We all agreed on the truth that a prophet is never well received in his own land, but also that we needed to dispel the false notions about Romero that have tainted his memory here. Fortunately, with his canonization that is beginning to happen, and presentations like this can help.

Unfortunately, the novena was cut short, and the big celebrations have now been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Maybe this will give us all the more reason to celebrate the 41st anniversary of San Romero with renewed vigor next year!

Peg Vámosy with Chalatenango Bishop Oswaldo Escobar and Maryknoll Father John Spain

My last venture out and about, before trying to stay at home during this COVID-19 outbreak, was with Maryknoll Father John Spain to Chalatenango. We had planned a while back to visit the people in San Antonio Los Ranchos to confirm things for the Aug. 23 commemoration of Maryknoll Sister Carol Piette’s tragic death there 40 years ago. We did that and also stopped in Chalatenango.

There we met with Bishop Oswaldo Escobar about both the August celebration and the Dec. 2 commemoration of the martyrdom of the four U.S. churchwomen, which the bishop likes to celebrate in “Chalate” every year.

Since this will be the 40th anniversary of that event as well, we hope to coordinate efforts so that people can perhaps attend various activities—not only at the site where the Maryknoll Sisters were killed but also in Chalatenango, where they lived and worked and are buried. When I asked if we might take a picture, Monseñor suggested we take it with St. Óscar Romero!

Photos by Peg Vámosy

Peg Vámosy
Peg Vámosy works in parish programs promoting sustainable agriculture and greater environmental awareness through the social justice committee of Monte San Juan Parish near Cojutepeque, El Salvador.