Washington resident Berta Quintanilla said her toddler had always asked about the bespectacled older man whose photo he often saw at home and sometimes at church events.
“He wanted to know about him, who he was,” said Quintanilla.
Because of the violent manner in which he died in 1980 — shot to death while celebrating Mass — it was difficult to explain the entire story of Blessed Oscar Romero to young Esau Cruz, now 6, but little by little, Quintanilla, began to teach him: He was a bit like Jesus. “He died for us,” and “he didn’t like injustice,” she explained to him.
Quintanilla, who was born in El Salvador, took Esau Aug. 15 to their Washington parish, the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where parishioners shared cake in honor of Blessed Romero after the feast of the Assumption Mass, which fell on what would have been the Salvadoran archbishop’s 100th birthday.
Around the country, including in Dallas and Los Angeles, parishes remembered the beloved archbishop.
“One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage — for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in an Aug. 13 homily during a Mass celebrating the birth of the Salvadoran archbishop.
But praise, and even recognition of Romero’s holiness by Catholics, was hard-fought, said 51-year-old Maria de la Paz Amaya de Majano, who attended the Washington gathering with her husband, daughter and grandson — all wearing T-shirts with the archbishop’s image. In her native El Salvador, it was once dangerous to have anything with his image on it, she said, remembering the attacks on his character by other Catholics. That’s why it’s always been important for her to tell the truth about Archbishop Romero to others but also to talk about it as a family, she told Catholic News Service.
From a young age, she taught her daughter Vilma Majano about the archbishop, to counter whatever she might hear about him from others.
Now as a family living in the U.S., they often light candles together by an oil portrait of Blessed Romero placed at their Washington parish church shortly after his 2015 beatification. She said she often asks for Blessed Romero’s intercession in matters involving the world’s youth and so that her native country can overcome violence. She’s also teaching her grandsons about his life, how Romero followed Jesus’ example.
“He was a great person who left everything behind, everything, even his blood, for the poor, for those who didn’t have shoes, those who were hungry,” and the poor who were being attacked for the religious beliefs, such as her family, Amaya said.
As a family, they told stories about him after the Mass while remembering his sacrifices.
“The most important way to remember Blessed Romero is to carry on his work for justice. But sometimes it is time to celebrate, which we did today in the context of Mary whom Romero referred to as the ‘ideal of the church,'” said Cinnamon Sarver, one of the event’s organizers.
For parishioner Quintanilla, it was another opportunity to help her teach her son Esau about another “great example” of humility and holiness that the church provides.
He was a good example of peace, of faith, of love for others, she said.
“I hope it helps him be nice to others, be humble, be good,” like Blessed Romero, she added.