Martyrs, Saints and Oscar Romero


Convivium, 14 March 2018

In El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, soon to be made a Catholic saint, Father Raymond de Souza finds a model Christian martyr of the 20th century.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1984, will be soon canonized a Catholic saint. The news came from the Vatican last week, but Romero had already been on my mind.

My last visit to Westminster Abbey was more than 20 years ago. It’s an ambiguous place for a Catholic. A great abbey of more than a thousand years standing, it was seized by the Crown in, as the English might say, the unpleasantness of the 16th century. The Church of England ensures that, even though the Abbey is often entered as more of a museum or tourist attraction, it still functions as a place where God is worshipped daily. I went along for Evensong, a great treasure the Anglicans have given to Christian worship and culture.

And upon entering the west door of the abbey I was struck by the 10 statues over the door commemorating the Christian martyrs of the 20th century. The Anglicans now take a broader view of martyrdom than they did in the 16th century, even honouring Catholic martyrs who died under Henry VIII.

(At the 2014 funeral of Jim Flaherty at St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto, I took along my priestly stole with the images of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More on it. Flaherty had kept a picture of Thomas More, patron saint of statesmen, in his office. I indicated to the presiding Anglican clergy that I would not wear it if it would cause discomfort, but was told enthusiastically that, to the contrary, they would be pleased.)

I had not seen the martyrs’ statues before. They were installed on the west front 20 years ago, in 1998, as part of a decades-long renewal of the Abbey. They were carefully selected to represent the greatest century of Christian martyrdom in history. The guide lists them thus:

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