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St Oscar Romero: Being the first to offer oneself

On the eve of his canonisation on Sunday 14th October, the parish of St Ignatius, Stamford Hill finished their Novena of intercession to Blessed Oscar Romero, with Bishop Paul McAleenan celebrating Mass and unveiling a bust of the soon-to-be saint.

Concelebrating the Mass were Assistant Priest Fr David Stewart SJ, Fr Paul O'Reilly SJ and former parish priest of St Ignatius Fr David Smolira SJ, who had organised the devotions.

In his homily Bishop Paul spoke of the gaze of God, which sees parts of us that no one else can see. This scrutiny is what Oscar Romero offered himself up to after the shooting of his friend and mentor Fr Rutilio Grande.  Then-Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero celebrated Mass at the parish of Fr Rutilio and after that spent many hours in prayer, not only looking at God, but allowing God to look at him.  He subjected himself to a gaze that sees where the soul is divided from the spirit. After this, ‘he got up and began to love the poor’, an act which ended with his martyrdom.

Bishop Paul reminded the congregation that we should not forget that Blessed Oscar Romero stood up for the oppressed and marginalised when it was difficult and unpopular. We should follow his lesson of always being on the side of the oppressed not the oppressor. Just as Jesus himself was a ‘threat to selfishness’, Blessed Oscar Romero was a ‘threat to power’. This is something we should not forget; we should not ignore the injustice of the world because it is difficult to face, or because no one else cares.

He went on to refer to the words said by all priests during Mass: ‘my sacrifice and yours’, which would have been said countless times by Archbishop Oscar Romero who then made them real when he was martyred while celebrating Mass in 1980. He gave everything he had, including his life in sacrifice for the Lord.  Bishop Paul called all clergy to remember this sacrifice when they say these words.

The Mass was followed immediately by a short liturgy for the unveiling and blessing of a bust of Blessed Oscar Romero. The final Novena prayer was said and an extract read from one of his homilies preached in 1978 exhorting that ‘greatness and authority should be demonstrated by service and simplicity, by being the first to offer oneself’.

The Novena was opened with a Mass on Friday 5th October, celebrated by Bishop John Sherrington.