Remembering Romero: Local guitarist pays tribute to the late archbishop in song

| Bridget Ryder | May 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is pictured in a 1979 photo. Archbishop Romero, who will be beatified in San Salvador May 23, has become a symbol of Latin American church leaders’ efforts to protect their flocks from the abuses of military dictatorships. CNS/EPA

Pope Francis and local musician Rob Hahn have both “put an exclamation point” on the life of Oscar Romero. Pope Francis named the Salvadoran archbishop a martyr for the faith earlier this year, inspiring Hahn to offer his own tribute through music.

Hahn, a parishioner at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, learned about the life and death of Oscar Romero in 1991 during a theology class at the University of Notre Dame. Back in his college dorm, the character of the Latin American prelate inspired the self-taught guitarist to write “Romero.”

“This was a guy who was made archbishop of El Salvador, and they thought he was going to be a tool in supporting the right wing government,” Hahn said. “But he saw the suffering of the poor. Then he saw a priest get shot and he began to speak out. He was in a position to use his voice, and he used it knowing he could be shot. It was that moxy that he showed.”

A native of El Salvador, Romero was ordained a priest in 1942. As bishop of Santiago de María, one of El Salvador’s poorest regions, Romero become aware of the sufferings of the poor and the government persecution of those who worked for social reforms. Still, he did not speak out against government oppression. In 1977, he became archbishop of San Salvador and shortly thereafter, his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, was killed for supporting the cause of the poor. Romero broke his silence. His radio show and homilies drew thousands of listeners and earned him the title “Voice of the Voiceless.” On March 23, 1980, in response to increasing violence, Archbishop Romero gave a homily in which he told soldiers to follow the law of God and disobey orders to fire on unarmed civilians. The next day he was shot by an assassin while saying Mass in the chapel of a hospital. He will be beatified May 23.

Over the years, Hahn has played the song that traces the life of Romero for mostly himself and close friends and family. When Pope Francis declared Romero a martyr in February and opened the way for his beatification, Hahn decided to round up a band and record the song.

“It was one of those unique experiences,” Hahn said. “Most of all, I wanted it to be fun, but it was emotional, too. We were dealing with some heavy stuff, so I wanted [the song] to be an upbeat rock song. It’s the celebration of a life.”

The warm rock rhythm well carries the message of Romero’s life that culminates in the line, “He stayed among them/ alive in their souls/ given the courage a martyr bestows,” a reference to Romero’s legacy and sacrifice. This was not the original ending of the song.

“The original version lacked a strong ending,” Hahn said. “It needed a verse at the end to bring it together. I changed it to put an exclamation point on his life.”

Never a career musician, Hahn can also imagine a kind of one-off live performance of the piece.

“The timing was right to do this, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said.

Hahn hopes the life of Oscar Romero will inspire Church leaders to engage in conversations about social injustice. For Hahn, the example of Romero reinforces “the need for people to take a stand.”

Hahn has set up a website in English and Spanish where people can listen to and download “Romero,”

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Category: Local News