Photo exhibit shows saint's impact on people of San Salvador
By Rose O’Connor, Correspondent
St. Oscar Romero, newly canonized in October and remembered for his defense of the San Salvadoran people amid his country’s civil war, was the subject of a unique photo exhibit in St. George Church, Titusville.
To celebrate his first feast day on March 24, the parish hosted a photo exhibit entitled “Images of El Salvador,” by New Jersey native Ted Kean.
“Images of El Salvador” is a collection of almost 40 black and white photographs taken during the 1994 elections in El Salvador and Guatemala. The collection features the people and places where the saint ministered and died.
St. Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, a country in the midst of a civil war in 1977. He worked closely with the people in his diocese. In his homilies, which were broadcast throughout the war-torn country, he often denounced the government in El Salvador and appealed for negotiations between the warring groups. His calls for peace led to his assassination on March 24, 1980, when he was shot while celebrating Mass.
Before his death, he was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “If they kill me, I shall arise again in the Salvadoran people.” Those Salvadoran people are the faces featured in the traveling collection.
In a guide designed to lead viewers through the exhibit, Ted Kean is described as a photographer whose interest in human rights and social justice issues “influenced his photography, and encourage him to travel to be with people who were struggling toward development.”
The exhibit was brought to the parish by weekend assistant, Msgr. Vincent Gartland.
“I have had the exhibit for a number of years,” he explained, “and thought that it would be a good way to draw attention to and celebrate the first feast day of St. Oscar Romero.”
It was the assassination of Archbishop Romero in March of 1980 and the four American Churchwomen in December of that year, that drew Msgr. Gartland’s attention to the suffering Church in Latin America, and the involvement of the United States government.
“I can honestly say that my involvement with the people of Latin America has had a profound effect on my faith and understanding of the Church,” he noted.
Msgr. Gartland hoped that the exhibit would provide insight into the people and conflict of San Salvador.
“Archbishop Romero chose to use his voice and position as Archbishop to speak for those who had no voice, to renounce repression and violence and call for negotiation and peace,” he said. “He had the courage to speak out against government abuse of power and use of violence against his own people … He serves as a great example to all Church leaders.”
As parishioner Jack Finnegan began to browse the exhibit with his parents Betsy and Matt, he quickly realized the connection to St. Oscar Romero, sharing that he was present for his canonization mass in St. Peter Square.
“I was struck by his focus on peace and justice for all people,” he said. “These photos allow you to see injustice through the eyes of the people living it.”
Parishioner Terri Reilly also browsed the exhibit, hung in between the Stations of the Cross in the church.
“These are fascinating,” she said of the photos. “It keeps us in touch with the broader Church.”
As Dr. Bob O’Boyle reflected, the photos also “showed Romero’s lasting impact in the community. They show all the different social statuses in the community … and different sacramentals that were brought into the home.”
Dr. O’Boyle is a retired Visual Arts teacher from Hopewell Valley Central High School, and has his doctorate degrees in Marian iconography and comparative literature.
Theresa Hank also took the opportunity to peruse the collection prior to Mass.
“There is joy in [the people’s] faces. And even though they are black and white, I can feel the color. The only faces that show no joy are the faces of the soldiers,” she said, highlighting the contrast between a photograph of a young boy named Juan who was farming, and a photo entitled, “Soldier Salute.”
“They are poor, but there is a celebration of life,” she continued. “There is a profound sense of celebration for their faith in these photos.”