Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified this weekend in his native El Salvador, where he was shot and killed while saying Mass.
In the midst of the troubled times in which he lived, he came to Rome in 1974, where he met with the Pope.
He also met with Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, and that meeting is recalled here by Escriva’s assistant from those days, Monsignor Joaquin Alonso.
The interview was conducted by Rodrigo Ayude. Monsignor Alonso has worked for years with the Prelate of Opus Dei. He has lived in the Italian capital for 62 years, where he is also Theological Consultor of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Monsignor Alonso: I met [Bishop Romero] in Rome in 1974. On October 30 of that year he came to Rome – it was not the first time – and Saint Josemaria, who was going to receive him a few days later, on November 8, asked me to look after him. Monsignor Romero had been appointed Bishop of Santiago de Maria, in El Salvador, a few days before undertaking the trip.
Monsignor Romero commented to me that that trip to the Eternal City was providential, as it was helping him to come out of his usual environment, distance himself from it a bit and to see from other horizons the small world, he said, that weighed on him. He felt the weight of the responsibility implied in his new Episcopal See, and he was in need of being listened to and encouraged.
Q: Do you have some recollection of those dates?
Monsignor Alonso: For me this visit meant an opportunity to speak with Monsignor Romero for a long time and quite in depth. They were fraternal conversations and very priestly. Among other things, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero told me that from the beginning of the 60s, he had spiritual direction with an Opus Dei priest, Father Juan Aznar, who died in March of 2004.
Later on I learned some details of that relationship with Father Juan Aznar. For instance, in a letter of 1970 he confided to him: “No one other than you yourself understands my soul,” and in 1973, when greeting him for Christmas, he said: “I never forget your wise directions.”
Blessed Oscar Romero was a grateful priest, and I was moved when I learned that he had died precisely while celebrating the Eucharist, thanksgiving par excellence.
Q: How was Monsignor Romero’s meeting with Saint Josemaria?
Monsignor Alonso: Saint Josemaria received him on November 8. The conversation lasted for almost an hour and, when it was over, Monsignor Romero told me that that meeting had left him deeply impressed. He said he felt comforted in his faith by Saint Josemaria and that the Founder of Opus Dei had embraced him, making him feel loved and supported. Monsignor Romero called Saint Josemaria a “man of God,” and he took advantage of their meeting to invite him to visit Central America, something that took place in 1975.
On that trip, Monsignor Romero was also able to greet Blessed Paul VI, and he was happy to hear words of encouragement from him. Afterwards he told me that that trip reminded him of his first years of priesthood, and he regarded it as a gift of God.
Q: Did that relationship continue in subsequent years?
Monsignor Alonso: I remember that on June 26, 1978 – third anniversary of Saint Josemaria’s going to Heaven – he came to celebrate Holy Mass in the crypt of Saint Mary of Peace, where the mortal remains of the Founder then rested. I helped him, together with Monsignor Francisco Vives. He gave a brief homily full of affection and gratitude to Saint Josemaria, pointing out that, from the first moment in which they had known one another, he felt cared for like a brother – words that he also left written in a letter.
This took place, as I said, in 1978, a year after Monsignor Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. Then, as he mentioned publicly, it was another Opus Dei priest who accompanied him spiritually.
Q: What did you think when you learned of his death?
Monsignor Alonso: The tragic news moved me greatly and, at the same time, I had the desire to support him with my prayer and to take recourse to his intercession in favor of the Church in Latin America. It was also a motive of gratitude to the Lord, as he gave me the opportunity to know this man of God personally.
(Published on May 18 on www.opusdei.es, reprinted with permission)