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St. Oscar Romero’s friend retires: His red hat was a token to honor the martyr

Newly elevated cardinal, Gregorio Rosa Chavez from Salvador

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Gregorio Rosa Chavez, when he was made a cardinal in 2017

I.Media - published on 10/14/22

When he became a cardinal in 2017, he was the first Salvadoran to receive the red hat, and the first auxiliary bishop.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, who celebrated his 80th birthday on September 3, has resigned as auxiliary bishop of San Salvador. An atypical cardinal, he has never governed a diocese, though he has held the position of auxiliary bishop for 40 years. Among the cardinals, he is a voice of Central America, along with Cardinals Maradiaga (Honduras), Ramazzini (Guatemala) and Brenes (Nicaragua).

He became the first Salvadoran cardinal in history during the June 2017 consistory, which also saw the creation of the first cardinals of Sweden, Mali, and Laos.

Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez appeared at the time to be a protocol anomaly: never indeed had an auxiliary bishop been promoted to the cardinalate.

But more than an episcopal post, it was a filiation that was thus honored with the red hat: The Salvadoran cardinal assumed his cardinalate as “an undeserved recognition in the name of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero,” whom he considers “an icon, the pastor that the Church still needs today.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980), whose relations with the entourage of John Paul II were rather distant, was never a cardinal. Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to 1980, he was assassinated in the middle of Mass after an episcopate marked by his tireless action in favor of the poor and the defense of human rights. Beatified in 2015 and canonized in 2018, on October 14, he is the object of intense veneration in his country and throughout Latin America.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez’s long friendship with Archbishop Romero

Gregorio Rosa Chávez, born on September 3, 1942, in the locality of Sociedad, had been linked with Father Oscar Romero since 1965, when the future saint was a priest and the future cardinal was a seminarian. Ordained a priest in 1970 for the Diocese of San Miguel, Gregorio Rosa Chávez was then sent to Belgium, to the Catholic University of Louvain, to study communication.

Back in his very unstable Central American country, he was rector of the Major Seminary of San Salvador from 1977 to 1982, and was one of Bishop Romero’s close advisors until the martyr’s assassination.

He then became auxiliary bishop of the Salvadoran capital upon appointment by John Paul II on February 17, 1982. One year later, on March 6, 1983, he welcomed the Polish Pope during the Salvadoran stage of his tour of Central America, during which the Pontiff stayed in prayer at the tomb of Archbishop Romero in the cathedral of San Salvador, in an atmosphere of great political tension. The head of state at the time, Roberto d’Aubuisson, was later considered to be the person who ordered the assassination of Bishop Romero by a far-right militia.

Mentioned 17 times in Romero’s diary, as recalled by Il Sismografo, the now auxiliary bishop emeritus of San Salvador continued the spiritual legacy of his friend, especially his commitment to the poor and his quest for peace and reconciliation. He also made a decisive contribution to the signing of the 1992 peace accords, which ended a 12-year civil war that left more than 100,000 dead.

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