One of the most memorable funeral liturgies in which I have taken part during my years of ministry was celebrated in the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland in December 1980. It was the Mass of Christian Burial of Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, 41, who had been brutally murdered along with three other churchwomen in the Central American country of El Salvador during that nation’s bloody civil war.
The images of that day are as fresh as if it was yesterday. The pews were filled with members of her family and her religious community as well as the clergy and faithful of the diocese. So many feelings hung over the assembly: sadness and shock at the suddenness and violence that marked her being taken from us, yes; but an overwhelming sense of admiration and love for Dorothy and her unfailing commitment to the Gospel and to the Salvadoran people. Just eight-and-a-half months earlier, on March 24, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, an outspoken proponent of justice and reconciliation in his native land, had been assassinated as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in the capital city, San Salvador.
Standing there with my fellow concelebrants forming an honor guard in the cathedral’s main aisle and overflowing into the transepts, I was struck by an overwhelming realization that I was in the presence of a martyr. Never in my life had I imagined that happening! Martyrs were revered figures from the distant past — apostles, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, holy men and women of every state in life who gave the ultimate witness in death to their undying faith in Jesus Christ. I felt incredibly blessed.
Those most familiar with the story of Sister Dorothy Kazel know that her stay in El Salvador had been extended because of the need to assure continuity in the Cleveland Diocese’s mission team serving there among the poor. It must have been a constant worry for her parents and brother and her Ursuline sisters to have her so far away and in evident danger.
A 2005 article in The Plain Dealer by religion writer David Briggs speaks of Dorothy’s commitment to staying: “All Dorothy had told her [Sister Sheila Marie Tobbe, a fellow Ursuline and a member of the mission team in the 1990s] in letters and conversations about how close to God and one another the people of El Salvador were had become clear. Now she understood what Dorothy had told her over and over, ‘Can you see why I can’t leave all this?’”
Capuchin Keith Clark, author of An Experience of Celibacy (1982) and Being Sexual . . . and Celibate (1986), reflects on how intimacy, friendship, commitment, and loneliness are lived by the Church’s ministers and religious. There is the call to be genuine, caring, and unswerving as we stand in appropriate relationship with and to those we serve. While not the exclusive love of marriage, it is nevertheless costly and enriching.
We are to give our lives as Christ did, unto death. Such love is the daily sacrifice of faithfulness and joyful self-giving — as Jesus, the martyrs of ages past, and Sister Dorothy Kazel and the martyrs of El Salvador have shown in our own time.
In This Issue
October will bring the canonization of two new saints: Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero. You might begin with Maryknoll missioner James H. Kroeger’s reflection “Pope Francis and Vatican II’s Saintly Popes” and Robert Sanson’s “Saint Oscar Romero’s Eucharistic Transformation.” Or linger in September for a while, pondering Owen F. Cummings’ “Thoughts about Catechesis in Today’s Church.” Underpinning it all is Ernest Falardeau, SSS’ “The Universal Call to Holiness,” which is deepened by our participation in the Lord’s Table.