Staff, volunteers and supporters of the COAR – Community of Oscar Arnulfo Romero – Peace Mission gathered on St. Oscar Romero’s feast day, March 24, for the annual prayer service. St. Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was murdered while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, during the country’s civil war. He was canonized by Pope Francis on Oct. 14, 2018. (See photo gallery above.)
The service began with the singing of the “Romero Hymn” the entrance procession including a cross bearer, flowers and a basket of prayer intentions that were placed in front of a framed picture of St. Romero. Presider was Father Tom Dragga, Church of the Resurrection pastor.
Four people – Tim Rose of Holy Angels Parish in Bainbridge and Danielle’s Mission; John Hannon of St. Rita Parish in Solon; Gerry Jira of St. Barnabas Parish in Northfield; and Father Steve Vellenga, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Painesville, director of the Diocesan Mission Office and a former member of the Cleveland Latin America Mission, also known as CLAM – shared stories of their time in El Salvador and their memories of the mission.
Hannon recalled seeing a solar halo or corona during a trip to El Salvador when he visited the chapel where St. Romero was killed. “I knew I was in a very sacred place,” he said.
Jira reminisced about a mission trip about three years ago with his brother-in-law who was so moved by his visits to the poor that he wanted to help. A young man serving as their interpreter mentioned that he wanted to be an electrician, so Jira said his brother-in-law paid for his training program. “Now he has a trade and a job,” Jira said.
In 1988, when he was fairly new to diocesan mission in El Salvador, Father Vellenga said he finished celebrating Mass and stepped outside to see a political rally taking place across from the church. He recalled a small, older woman tugging at his sleeve saying, “He killed Senor (Archbishop Romero). The man who was running for political office had killed her beloved archbishop,” he said.
In his homily, Father Dragga talked about visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and how images and artifacts are used to share the story of the Holocaust during World War II. He connected this to the upcoming triduum in Holy Week, which tells the story of our faith. “We break the darkness with one candle,” he said, referring to the lighting of the paschal candle at the Easter Vigil.
“We gather tonight as a people of faith to tell the story not simply of one man but of what one man and a nation can inspire in all of us,” he said.
Father Dragga said the parish’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel is dedicated to the martyrs of El Salvador. He said connected the martyrs to the people of Ukraine who are suffering and asking for prayers that they may know peace.
“St. Romero understood the plight of the people. We tell the story of one man and of a nation who need to know God’s abiding peace,” he said. We gather each year to tell the story, he said, adding, “It is our duty, obligation and call to let the story be known to future generations” so we don’t forget because, as he reminded the group, “The power in the story can bring peace.”
The congregation was invited to sing along with children from the COAR Mission in El Salvador who recorded a song about St. Romero.
After the service, there was a reception and attendees could view photos from the diocesan mission and COAR Village in El Salvador. The Diocese of Cleveland has operated a mission in El Salvador since 1964. Diocesan priests Father Paul Schindler and Father John Ostrowski minister there.