AMERICA/ARGENTINA - Pironio and Romero: friends also in Paradise

Friday, 15 December 2023 saints   holiness   martyrs  

by Gianni Valente
Campana (Agenzia Fides) – Friendships emerge among the Saints, a reflection of their common friendship with Christ. Friendships that also help them to go through the apostolic sufferings that almost always accompanies the path and the gift of holiness. Friendships that remain for everyone as a powerful and comforting sign of what the Church of Christ really is and what keeps it going even in the midst of the storms of History.
Such a friendship has already united on this earth Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Salvadoran martyr Archbishop, murdered in front of the altar on March 24, 1980, and Edoardo Pironio (1920/1998), the Argentine bishop and president of the Council of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), called to Rome by Pope Paul VI as Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and Institutes of Apostolic Life.
Romero was proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis on October 14, 2018, together with Saint Paul VI. Eduardo Francisco Pironio will be beatified tomorrow, Saturday, December 16, at the Argentine Shrine of Our Lady of Luiàn, where his remains rest, during a liturgy presided over by Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Álzaga, who was Pironio's secretary for 23 years.

With the Beatification of Cardinal Pironio, the priestly friendship that bound him to the martyr Romero becomes even more evident as a powerful sign and witness to the treasure of the holiness of the martyrs that has enriched the history of the Latin American Church and its Pastors in recent decades.

Encounters in Antigua

"Monsignor Romero would not have endured all the suffering he endured in his difficult mission as a pastor - 'it seems that my calling is to collect corpses,' he said in a homily - if he had not had another man of God at his side, who will soon be elevated to the honor of the altars", wrote the Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who was a friend and collaborator of the Salvadoran martyr, in the afterword to Anselmo Palini's book Óscar Romero. «Ho udito il grido del mio popolo» (Roma, 2018).
In his foreword, Cardinal Rosa Chàvez traces the priestly friendship between Archbishop Romero and Cardinal Pironio to the retreat that Pironio preached to the Catholic bishops of Central America in Antigua, Guatemala, in August 1972. "The spiritual exercises that Prelate Pironio preached to us from the first evening," Archbishop Romero later wrote in an article, “placed us precisely in this 'hour' of our history, which, like the 'hour' of Jesus, is an hour of the Easter Cross, of painful hopes that demands from today's pastors a great silence of prayer, open to the Word of God, a great poverty of spirit, open to dialogue and service". In this article, Archbishop Romero writes about Pironio as follows: "The inspired words of this great modern bishop, general secretary of CELAM, recently appointed Bishop of Mar del Plata, have led us to reflect on the true political mission of the Church in Latin America and to reflect on the true meaning of Christian liberation, which, if it is an impulse of the Spirit of God and aims at full freedom and triumph over sin and its consequences, is more than a simple urgency of history or a revolutionary cry and goes far beyond the horizons of history and is much deeper than the simple socio-economic aspect". "During these retreats," Archbishop Romero added of Pironio, "he invited people to proclaim the message of salvation with simplicity and fervor, because the only way to true liberation is to live the beatitudes of the Gospel. If the Beatitudes do not have the power to bring about the necessary changes, one must abandon the Gospel as a utopia and say that Christ did not have the ability to be the true leaven for human and social transformation".

In 1974, Pope Paul VI commissioned Bishop Pironio, to preach at the retreat for the Roman Curia. In July 1975, Pironio preached the same retreat to the bishops of Central America in Antigua, Guatemala. In the notes collected during this retreat, Archbishop Romero also recalls the urgency of "feeling the Church as Medellín describes it: poor, missionary, paschal" that the Argentine preacher recalls.
From then on and in the years that followed, as El Salvador descended into violence, Pironio became a friend and advisor to Bishop Romero, to whom he confided even his most intimate sufferings.

Encounters in Rome

In February 1977, by will of Pope Paul VI, Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador. In 1975, Pironio was called to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for Religious by Pope Montini himself, who created him Cardinal in 1976. From that moment onwards, the friendship between Pironio and Romero also leaves eloquent traces in the Diary of the Salvadoran Bishop, which is "a key to understanding his life" (Gregorio Rosa Chávez). Archbishop Romero notes in his diary the role played by Pironio during his last three visits to Rome, which were characterized partly by consolations and partly by misunderstandings and difficulties.

The visit of June 1978 was marked by the Salvadoran Archbishop's joy at the consolation he received from the visit to the memorials of the Holy Apostles and the words and encouragement of Pope Paul VI; "It was always my prayers at these apostolic graves that gave me inspiration and strength. Especially this evening it is like this: I feel that my visit is not just a simple visit of private pity, but that, in carrying out the ad limina visit, I bring with me all the interests, worries, problems, hopes, projects and fears of all my priests, the religious communities, the parishes, the basic communities, that is, an entire archdiocese that comes with me to kneel yesterday before the tomb of Saint Peter, today in front of the tomb of St. Paul," wrote Archbishop Romero in his report on Sunday, June 18.

On his trip to Rome in May 1979, Archbishop Romero sought and found Pironio's consolation even more forcefully. Things had changed for him: the criticism of his opponents seemed to have been heard in the Vatican. The Holy See had already sent Bishop Antonio Quarracino from Argentina to El Salvador as Apostolic Visitor. Archbishop Romero noted the "negative information about my pastoral work" circulating in the Vatican, as well as the hypothesis that he himself could be replaced at the head of the Archdiocese of El Salvador by an Apostolic Administrator "sede plena". On Wednesday, May 9, Romero visited Pironio, "who," he wrote in his diary, "received me so fraternally and cordially that this meeting alone would have been enough to give me comfort and courage. I explained to him confidentially my situation in my archdiocese and at the Holy See. He opened his heart to me and told me what he too was forced to suffer, how much he regretted the problems of Latin America, which are not fully understood by the highest authority of the Church. [... ] And he added: 'The worst thing you can do is to get discouraged. Courage, Romero!' and repeated this many times. I also thanked him for the answers to other questions he asked me in this long and fraternal conversation, and then I left my journey to Rome with a heart full of new strength".

Also in January 1980, on his last trip to Rome, Archbishop Romero met with Cardinal Pironio. "Rome," he wrote on January 28, "means for me the return to the cradle, to the homeland, to the source, to the heart, to the brain of our Church. I have asked the Lord to grant me this faith and this adhesion to the Rome "that Christ chose as the seat of the universal shepherd, the Pope". The Roman encounters are comforting for Archbishop Romero, especially the meeting with Pironio on January 30th: "Then I was able to speak with Cardinal Pironio, a very short visit but for me very encouraging. He told me he wanted to see me in person, to inform me with joy that Cardinal Lorscheider's visit was very positive and that the Pope himself received a very good report about me." "Cardinal Lorscheider," Romero added, "had told Cardinal Pironio that in El Salvador I was right, that the situation is very difficult, that I saw things and the role of the Church clearly and that I need to be helped. I assume this is a summary of Cardinal Lorscheider's report on his trip to El Salvador. I thanked Cardinal Pironio very much and even encouraged him when he told me that he too had suffered a lot, precisely because of his commitment to the peoples of Latin America, and that he understood me very well. He quoted me a sentence from the Gospel, for which he gives a special explanation: "Do not be afraid of people who can kill the body but not the soul." He interprets it in the sense that if those who kill the body are terrible, those who attack the spirit by slandering, defaming, destroying a person are certainly even more terrible, and that he thinks that this is precisely my martyrdom, even within the Church itself, and that I must be courageous".

Romero also returned from Rome to San Salvador comforted by Pironio's words. Less than two months later he would die a martyr's death. (Agenzia Fides, 15/12/2023)