Minnesota guitarist pays tribute to slain Salvadoran archbishop in song
Minnesota musician Rob Hahn hopes a song he wrote to pay tribute to Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero will inspire people to take a stand against injustice.
Hahn, a parishioner at Nativity of Our Lord in St Paul, learned about the life and death of Archbishop 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.
But he only recently recorded the 24-year-old song, inspired by Pope Francis naming the slain archbishop a martyr for the faith earlier this year.
“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 moxie that he showed.”
Hahn has set up a website in English and Spanish where people can listen to and download “Romero,” www.romerosong.com
The decree papal recognising Archbishop Romero as a martyr meant there was no need to prove a miracle for his beatification, which will take place in San Salvador on Saturday. This will move him a step closer to sainthood.
In general, two miracles are needed for sainthood – one for beatification and the second for canonisation.
A native of El Salvador, then-Bishop Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. Shortly thereafter, his friend Jesuit Fr Rutilio Grande was killed for supporting the cause of the poor.
The archbishop emerged as a champion for the poor and an uncompromising critic of a government he said legitimised terror and assassinations. His radio show and homilies drew thousands of listeners and earned him the title “Voice of the Voiceless.”
On 23rd March, 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 fatally shot by an assassin while saying Mass in the chapel of a hospital.
Over the years, Hahn has played the song that traces the life of Romero for mostly himself and close friends and family. After Archbishop Romero was declared a martyr in February, clearing the way for his beatification, Hahn decided to round up a band and record the song.
“It was one of those unique experiences,” Hahn told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis. “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 Archbishop 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 Archbishop 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 Archbishop Romero will inspire Church leaders to engage in conversations about social injustice. For Hahn, his example reinforces “the need for people to take a stand.”