I saw an interesting news story yesterday about Stonyhurst
curator Jan Graffius going to El Salvador to give advice on the care of the relics of the murdered Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ
, Oscar Romero
, the six Jesuits of the University of Central America (UCA) - Ignacio Ellacuria
, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado Lopez - and of their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celia Marisela Ramos. It touched me, so I thought I'd post the whole story from the Independent Catholic News here ....
********************************Stonyhurst curator visits San Salvador to help conserve Romero relics
Stonyhurst curator Jan Graffius has visited San Salvador to begin the delicate task of examining the vestments worn by 20th century martyr Monseñor Oscar Romero when he was assassinated as he celebrated Mass on 24 March 1980.
She was there at the invitation of the Carmelite sisters who run the Hospital of the Divine Providence, where Archbishop Romero lived and where he was murdered, and of the eminent theologian, Fr Jon Sobrino SJ
who runs the Romero Pastoral Centre at the University of Central America.
Her purpose in going to San Salvador was to advise on the conservation and display of the relics and personal possessions of Monseñor Romero and of the six Jesuit theologians of the University of Central America (UCA) who were murdered by the Salvadoran Army in 1989.
Jan, who looks after the many Catholic relics and important artefacts at Stonyhurst College, is an expert on the care of sacred objects. The College collection contains many rare and ancient vestments.
The trip had been arranged through Julian Filochowski, for many years Director of CAFOD who has worked with the Jesuits and Monseñor Romero since the late 1970s to promote the cause of peace and justice in a country which was torn apart by war and repression for many years
Although there is now peace, it is still a divided and poverty stricken country and, today, the death rate in San Salvador is greater than during the war as a result of gangs and the ever present scourge of drugs.
Jan explained: "Thousands of teenagers are left to care for elderly grandparents and younger siblings as their parents have gone to the USA in an attempt to earn some money to support the family, thus effectively preventing a generation of young people from studying in the hope of improving their situation.
"Despite this, I was welcomed wherever I went with great courtesy and generous hospitality, both on my own account as a visitor, but more so as I was there because of Monseñor Romero, who is revered and deeply loved by the poor of the country.
"I spent many hours working in the three small rooms at the Cancer Hospital of the Carmelite Sisters where Archbishop Romero lived in great simplicity. Close by is the chapel where he was murdered on March 24th 1980. I was privileged to be able to hear Mass there where pilgrims come daily to pray at the altar where Romero was shot while he celebrated Mass.
"His rooms contain many personal possessions, such as clothing, books, official and unofficial papers, photographs and most importantly, the vestments and clothes he was wearing when he was shot. These hang separately from the other possessions and are in need of proper supports to help preserve the thin cotton fabric which is soaked in dried blood.
"Handling and examining these vestments was an emotional experience and a great responsibility. I made condition reports and took photographs of everything, monitored the light levels, UV radiation, humidity and temperature within the rooms and over the next few weeks will draw up a report for the sisters outlining recommendations for improvement in the display and care for these important relics.
"If, as is expected, Monseñor Romero is beatified in the near future, the hospital will become an even more important centre of pilgrimage than it is at present. The sisters have kindly invited me to return early next year to make the necessary changes to the displays."
Jan's second project was at the Romero Pastoral Centre at the UCA. Here Fr Sobrino has put together a large display in the Sala de los Martires of personal items belonging to Monseñor Romero, to Fr Rutilio Grande, the first Jesuit to be murdered in El Salvador, and a large and harrowing collection of clothing worn by the six Jesuits and a mother and daughter dragged from their beds by the Army death squads in November 1989 and murdered.
Jan added: "The Jesuits have also collected many pieces of evidence from other murders and massacres in El Salvador, many of which were officially denied at the time, to provide a witness to the repression and to ensure that those who died are not forgotten. It was impossible, for instance, not to be moved at the sight of the white shoes worn by 15 year old Celina, when she was shot, along with her mother, the Jesuits' cook, in 1989.
"Yet, it was not a depressing experience - there are many visitors to the Sala from all over the world, who are shown round by UCA students, keen that future generations should know what happened in El Salvador and especially keen that visitors should know that the Church and the Society of Jesus were almost lone voices crying for justice and peace in very dark times.
"The story, essentially, is one of struggle, hope and sacrifice, and the longed for peace was finally attained in El Salvador largely as a result of the orld wide outrage at the murders of the Jesuits and the two women.
"I left with strong feelings of regret and keenly anticipate my return visit. El Salvador may not be the most comfortable of places for those of us used to security and plenty, but the people are kind, passionate and generous, and went out of their way to welcome a slightly culture shocked non Spanish speaking westerner. I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world, and remain deeply grateful to those who supported the project and wish it well.
You can read more about the El Salvador martyrs at this Creighton University page