Archbishop Oscar Romero was and is much revered across the Christian faith communities, not just by Catholics: he is one of ten 20th century martyrs depicted above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, for example. So when it was suggested by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) that his canonisation on 14 October be marked in Glasgow, this suggestion was warmly received, and the minister of Ibrox Parish Church, Rev. Tara Granados, was happy to offer to host the service.
GCT representatives were joined for the celebration by Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, Rev. Ian Boa of Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), Patricia Ferguson and Teresa McGoldrick of SCIAF (St Oscar is one of their patron saints), Dorothy McLean of the Archdiocese of Glasgow’ Commission for Justice & Peace, and Shabir Beg of the Scottish Ahlul Beyt Society. As the congregation came together in Ibrox Parish Church, gathering music was provided by Alice Guse on harp and the St. Mungo Singers.
The opening hymn was a very appropriate one for a saint so committed to social justice and peace: Bernadette Farrell’s Christ be our Light. It was followed by a proclamation of what Archbishop Romero stood for, read out by Teresa McGoldrick.
After a welcome by Rev Tara, the Vice Chair of GCT, Rev Chris Foxon of the Methodist Church led the congregation in the reading of a prayer reflection, well known to many present: that of Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, which finishes with the wonderful phrase “We are prophets of a future not our own”. This prayer is often attributed to Archbishop Romero, a fact acknowledged by the late Bishop Untener in a reflection on the anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom, and it is now usually known as the Romero Prayer.
After the singing of a psalm (Noel Donnelly’s setting of Psalm 114) and a reading from 1Peter 4: 13-14, Patricia Ferguson gave a reflection on St. Oscar who is the patron not only of SCIAF but of the world-wide Caritas organisation. She gave a summary of his life, how he was viewed by many as reactionary and someone who was suspicious of those priests who worked with the poor in El Salvador. Yet his eyes were opened to the realities of their situation when he became Bishop of Santiago de Maria, a poor rural area.
He was a surprising and perhaps not popular choice as Archbishop of San Salvador but after the murder of his close friend, Jesuit priest Fr. Rutilio Grande who had a passion for peace with justice, Archbishop Romero became a voice for the voiceless and for justice. His Sunday sermons not only told what was happening to the poor in his country but they were the voice of God’s love for all. After his assassination, the people of San Salvador immediately gathered to pray and to call him a saint. Now today the church has formally canonised him.
Patricia finished with a lovely story from a book about him called “Monseñor Romero – Memories in Mosaic” which recounts the daily action of a beggar in San Salvador cathedral who cleans and polishes the tomb of Archbishop Romero, an action carried out because of what the Archbishop had been for him – a father who cared for him and those like him.
Archbishop Romero’s own words followed in a selection of quotations read by representatives of churches and organisations present. The readings were completed by a reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which concluded with the affirmation “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Time for reflection was provided by a harp interlude, then John Bell’s hymn Jesus Christ is Waiting with its invitation to follow Christ’s footsteps, led into the intercessions where the congregation prayed for the people of El Salvador, for peacemakers everywhere, for compassion and openness to others, for asylum seekers and those who work with them, and for GCT and its work.
An offering was taken up for SCIAF’s work with the people of El Salvador, as the congregation sang the Lord’s Prayer. Then Rev. Roy Henderson, Moderator of the Presbytery of Glasgow gave the vote of thanks. He expressed his personal pleasure in being invited to do so because, as a boy, one of two books by his bedside had been the words of Archbishop Romero – the other was those of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He thanked in particular those behind the organising of the service, commenting that they probably had not had time yet to realise the significance of what had taken place that evening.
The service finished with a spoken blessing by the church leaders present, and a sung blessing by the St. Mungo Singers, before everyone joined in singing For all the Saints, a suitably rousing hymn to finish a lovely inclusive service for a man whose life gave witness to the power of God.
No GCT service would be complete without an opportunity to chat afterwards, and a beautiful spread was provided in the parish hall to round off the celebration.