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of the Martyrdom of Archbishop Romero, Westminster Abbey, London
Church of St Peter at Westminster, London.
Church of England. The Abbey is a Royal
What can be written about Westminster Abbey that has not already
been written? Let me say only that it is a large Gothic church,
built and altered over a period of 150 years from 1245. It is
renowned for its single narrow aisle and high vault (highest
in the United Kingdom). The west front of the Abbey contains
10 statues of Christian martyrs. Among these is one of Óscar
Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, better known as Archbishop
Romero, the 30th anniversary of whose martyrdom was remembered
in today's service.
Again, what can be said about the functions held at the Abbey,
and its programs and ministries, that everyone doesn't already
know? Permit me merely to remind the reader that the Abbey has
witnessed the coronation of all monarchs since the year 1066,
and 17 monarchs are buried there. It is also the main venue
for royal weddings. The Abbey holds daily services and organised
The Abbey's central location puts it within walking distance
of innumerable famous buildings. It shares its site with the
very lovely St Margaret's Church, but its most famous neighbour
is the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament.
The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Rowan Douglas Williams, 104th Archbishop
of Canterbury, preached. The Very Revd John Robert Hall, dean
of Westminster, conducted the service. The Revd Ralph Godsall,
minor canon, led the prayers, with contributions from His Eminence
Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, retired Roman Catholic Archbishop
of Westminster; the Rt Revd Michael Charles Evans, Bishop of
East Anglia; Clare Dixon, secretary of the Archbishop
Romero Trust; The Revd Vaughn Jones, chief executive of
and Jan Graffus, curator of Stonyhurst College and custodian
of the relic of Archbishop Romero. Also taking part in the service
were the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop
of Westminster; His Excellency Werner Romero, Ambassador of
El Salvador to the Court of St James; Julian Filochowski, chair
of the Archbishop Romero Trust; and Sandra Zamora. Robert Quinney,
sub-organist at Westminster Abbey, presided at the organ. Mr
Sam Wilson played a selection on the marimba.
The date & time:
Sunday, 28 March 2010, 6.30pm. It was Palm Sunday but the liturgy
was not that of the day.
What was the name of the
A Service to Mark the 30th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Oscar
Romero. Romero served as Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador
from 1977 until 1980. On 24 March 1980, while celebrating mass
in a hospital chapel, he was assassinated by a hit squad in
retaliation over a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran
soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop
carrying out the government's violations of basic human rights.
In 1997, His Holiness Pope John Paul II declared Romero a Servant
of God, the first step on the road to canonisation.
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two rather officious gentlemen at the Abbey gate
who were trying to ensure that only worshipers entered the service.
Inside the Abbey, we were ushered to our seats by several people
wearing Papal insignia, who managed to be friendly and helpful
whilst being exceedingly quiet at the same time.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had padded seats which were joined together in rows.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was very quiet and reverential. No one was speaking.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
The service began with an excerpt from Archbishop Romero's fateful
sermon (translated from Spanish): "I would like to make
a special appeal to the men of the army... Any human order to
kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says: 'Thou
shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary
to the law of God... I implore you, I beg you, I order you in
the name of God: stop the repression."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
A booklet especially prepared for the service.
What musical instruments
The Abbey organ. Mr. Sam Wilson played Mexican Dance No.
2 by the American percussionist Gordon Stout on the marimba.
Did anything distract
This was my first ever visit inside the Abbey, so I found the
magnificent splendour of the building itself distracting. I
just couldn't help diverting my eyes to the stained glass, the
statues, the fantastic ceiling, and the glorious but tasteful
vestments worn by the dean and archbishop. Also in my direct
line of sight was a certain retired member of Parliament who
is much admired. I was trying hard not to stare. The candle
stands were protected by red fire blankets, which also drew
my gaze, much to my annoyance.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Very serious and reverent, befitting the subject matter. Ambassador
Romero and other dignitaries were received at the west door
and conducted to their seats. A fragment from the blood-stained
alb Archbishop Romero had been wearing at mass the day he was
martyred was placed in a reliquary on the altar. The epistle
was read in Spanish; the gospel in English. After the Archbishop
of Canterbury's sermon, the intercessions, and the Lord's Prayer,
a wreath was laid under the statue of Archbishop Romero. The
service concluded with a final prayer and blessing.
Exactly how long was the
I did not think it was the appropriate occasion or place to time the sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Dr Williams was vested very plainly. His sermon was
quiet and respectful but quite passionate and assertive at the
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Dr Williams described Romero's journey during his ministry,
his passionate advocacy of the poor, and his refusal to advocate
violent struggle. He mentioned the ongoing plight of the Salvadorian
people and talked about this in the context of Easter, the suffering
of Christ and the nature of sacrifice.
Which part of the service was like being in
The sermon, actually. Dr Williams is sometimes portrayed in a
derisory manner, by both secularists and Christians alike. On
this occasion he was truly excellent. I initially thought that
a little bit more drive to his speech was needed, but thinking
it through, I believe he struck the right balance without compromise.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I initially found myself getting a little prickly over the relic
issue, but it was all presented very tastefully and treated
with extreme respect by the congregation.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
You do not hang around the Abbey looking lost.
How would you describe the after-service
None, but we got to shake the dean's hand.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 Wouldn't that be just great!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so, but it also reminded us that that this can also
mean great sacrifice.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
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