The movie “Romero” tells the story of the events leading up to the assassination and martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. (Archbishop Romero will be canonized a saint this coming fall.) Romero served as archbishop during a painful time of violence and unrest in his country. During this conflict, the archbishop made the choice to stand beside the poor and for this he was killed.
There is a powerful scene in the movie where the archbishop arrives at a church in his diocese which had been taking over by the government military. The soldiers had desecrated the church and were using it as sleeping quarters. The church tabernacle has been opened and the vessels stolen and the consecrated hosts had been spilled out on the floor. The archbishop, who was not a confrontational man, had come to collect the consecrated hosts. Entering the church he was blocked by an officer who yelled at him to exit immediately. As he retreated back to his car the archbishop was met by a crowd of people (his flock from that parish) who had gathered outside the church.
The movie presents an unspoken moment when the archbishop and these people – the poor, the elderly, youth, men and women – simply stare at one another. Nothing is said. These people are the body of Christ and their silent presence is what gives the archbishop the courage he needs to walk back into the church, past the officer and up to the ransacked tabernacle. Dropping on his knees, the archbishop gently begins to pick up each consecrated hosts. The officer grabs a machine gun, aims at the altar area above the archbishop and shoots up the back wall, yelling at Romero to stop and leave! The archbishop hunkers down on the floor underneath the gunfire. Once the shooting has stopped, he silently begins to pick up the hosts again. Eventually, Romero gets all the hosts just as soldiers pick him up and force him from the church.
It was his love of the Body of Christ both in the consecrated hosts and in the people of the Church that gave Romero the courage he needed in that moment. Just as the archbishop gently picked up each host scattered on the floor that day did he also seek to gently and truly heal the suffering of his people as well as the wounds of his society at that time.
Today, we as church, reflect on this great truth which Jesus leaves us when he says, “This is my body.” and “This is my blood.” The bread and wine – through the working of grace – truly becomes the very body and blood of Christ. Romero knew this in his heart and his action of gathering those hosts even under gunfire witnesses to his understanding of this great and holy mystery that we celebrate and receive every time we gather for Mass.
The unspoken encounter between the archbishop and the people gathered outside their church also gives witness to Romero’s understanding that the Eucharist taken and received transforms the people into the Church, the Body of Christ. We can say at this moment within the film the true “church” was actually the people gathered outside. In retrieving the consecrated hosts, Romero is returning the Eucharist back to the Church, to the people who are the beloved of God. This is the work of a true priest.
Every time that we gather for Mass, we gather with our Lord and his disciples in that upper room and in wonder we hear anew those words spoken by our Lord, “This is my body.” “This is my blood.” In wonder we take, we receive and we ourselves are transformed into the Body of Christ.
As we gather with the Lord and his disciples we also gather in wonder with all the holy men and women of the centuries who have cherished and received these words and this truth given by our Lord. Among this throng of witnesses with whom we stand is the soon-to-be canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero. May we learn from him and come to know as he knew – this is the Body and Blood of Christ and through our partaking of it we are transformed into the Body of Christ.