Suyapa and Romero

Today I was awake at 4:15 am as the firecrackers went off to honor the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras and of the church here in Plan Grande. I brushed my teeth, put on sweat pants and sweatshirt, and went to church for the rosary at 5:00 am.

Today’s feast commemorates the finding in 1747 of a tiny cedar statue of the Virgin Mary, only 2.3 inches tall, by two young campesinos – one of them a boy of 8 years.

Image of the Virgin of Suyapa in the Plan Grande church

Image of the Virgin of Suyapa in the Plan Grande church

The devotion grew over the years and now it is a major feast with celebrations in the basilica near Tegucigalpa where the image is enshrined. From her small beginnings, Mary has become a major figure whom the powerful seek to use for their purposes. The major Mass in the basilica is often attended by the Honduran president and major political and economic leaders.

This is a far cry from the humble beginnings – a far cry from the tiny statue of a poor woman found by poor young Honduran campesinos.

There is a real need to recover the humility of the Virgin Mary and her identification with the poor.

When I came back from the rosary, I made coffee, showered, and sat down to pray.

Afterwards I looked at Facebook and found that the Pope had ratified the decree of a Vatican commission that declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr, who was killed in odium fidei, as an act of hatred for the faith. This means that the way is open for Romero’s beatification.

Romero, who I believe had a love for the poor from his earliest years, became a major advocate for the poor when he was made archbishop of San Salvador. His eloquent defense of the poor and his calls for justice – based in his faith in a God of love and justice – aroused the ire of political and military elites. He was killed on March 24, 1980, while saying Mass in the chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived. (He had rejected an episcopal residence for the sacristy of the hospital chapel; the sisters later built him a small house on the hospital grounds.)

The altar where Romero was martyred

The altar where Romero was martyred

Romero has been a sign of the incarnation of God among the poor. Jesus was born poor, of a poor woman, in a poor oppressed country.

In a homily on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 1977, Romero spoke of Mary, referring to her apparition in Mexico to the indigenous man Juan Diego:

Mary and the church in Latin America are marked by poverty.
Vatican Council II says that Mary stands out
among the poor who await redemption from God.
Mary appears in the Bible
as the expression of poverty, of humility,
of one who needs everything from God.
When she comes to America,
her intimate, motherly converse is with an Indian,
an outcast, a poor man.
Mary’s dialog in America begins with a sign of poverty,
poverty that is hunger for God,
poverty that is joy of independence.
Poverty is freedom.
Poverty is needing others,
needing brothers and sisters,
supporting one another so as to help one another.

So today I rejoice in the feast of the Virgin Mary revealed to the poor as we celebrate the coming beatification of Monseñor Romero, the voice of the voiceless, martyr of love and justice.


The quotation from Romero is taken from The Violence of Love, p. 35.

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