Jailed parishioner remembered at Romero Mass

Padre Angel Renderos, pastor of Buen Pastor Parish in Mjeicanos, El Salvador, celebrates March 10 with Father Chuck Tobin, pastor of St. Sabina Parish in Belton, the Belton parish’s annual Mass in commemoration of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. (Kevin Kelly/Key photo)

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

BELTON — What will Jesus do?

Jesus Torres only knows the United States of America. He was the first-born and only child of his parents, who crossed the border from Mexico without documents 16 years ago when Jesus was six years old.

Jesus wasn’t at the annual celebration of the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero March 10, the fifth year in a row that the celebration was held at his home parish of St. Sabina in Belton.

He was in jail in Caldwell County, where he had been sent two days earlier to await deportation to Mexico — a land where he has no family, no home, no job and no means to support himself.

On March 12, after an administrative hearing at the Department of Homeland Security offices in Platte County, Jesus was released from custody but ordered to leave the United States by April 12.

Jesus, 22 years old, is engaged to be married to a U.S. citizen, whom he will leave. He will also leave the job that helped support his parents and two younger siblings, both born in the United States and citizens.

And his education at Johnson County, Kan., Community College will come to a halt. The Kansas community college accepted him, an honors graduate of Belton High School, when colleges in Missouri could not under state law.

Jesus had never been in trouble with the law before until a Belton police officer pulled Jesus over on the pretense that the license plate didn’t exactly match the car he was driving.

Jesus was able to show the officer proper vehicle registration. But he was unable to show the office a valid driver’s license — impossible to get in the State of Missouri without proof of legal U.S. residency.

Belton police then notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who launched legal proceedings that led to his March 8 arrest by ICE officials, detention and order of deportation to Mexico.

At the end of Mass at St. Sabina celebrating the El Salvadoran archbishop who gave his life defending the voiceless and the powerless, the pastor, Father Chuck Tobin, spoke in barely concealed anger to a church filled with immigrants and native-born citizens.

Father Tobin was angry, not only at losing a parishioner who had received his sacraments at St. Sabina and served as an altar boy even through his years at Belton High School, just across the church on Highway 58.

Father Tobin said he was angry at a nation that can’t recognize that Jesus, and thousands like him, is a brother among them.

“No matter what we do, no matter what his attorney is doing, it probably won’t make a difference,” Father Tobin said.

But still, those voices need to be heard, he said. It is what Archbishop Romero would have done, the pastor said.

“Even if you are hesitant, don’t forget that it was Romero who should have been very afraid to speak up, but he did,” Father Tobin said.

“It’s time for this silliness about who is our brother and sister to stop,” he said.

Jesus’ friend, Ricardo Quinonez, has known Jesus since they received First Communion together at St. Sabina.

Quinonez, a U.S. citizen, has organized a petition drive, a phone call bank, and a letter-writing campaign to call attention to a case which to him, makes no sense. Why wouldn’t the United States want young men like Jesus Torres, he asked.

In fact, Quinonez said, it was Jesus Torres who kept Quinonez active and involved in the church, and was eager to volunteer — both himself and his friends — to help with whatever the church needed done.

“The church needed help, so he helped out,” Quinonez said. “He would do it as service to the church.”

Service to the church, and defense of its people even to the point of death is exactly what Archbishop Romero stood for, said Padre Angel Renderos, pastor of Buen Pastor Parish in Mejicanos, El Salvador, who was the principal celebrant at the Mass in Belton, and the guest of honor at the fiesta that followed.

With John Marrin serving as English interpreter, Padre Renderos told the Belton congregation in his homily of his own enthusiasm as a newly ordained priest 25 years ago, when he wanted to celebrate his first Mass in the same hospital chapel where Archbishop Romero was gunned down.

“I said to myself, ‘I will continue the Mass that Monsenor did not finish,’” Padre Renderos said.

But as he grew older and wiser, Padre Renderos came to realize the perfection of the Mass the archbishop died celebrating.

“In the precise moment when Monsenor died, his oblation was fulfilled and he entered into full communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If there was anyone who celebrated a Mass to perfection, it was Monsenor Romero.”

Archbishop Romero had in fact prepared himself completely for his violent death, that very morning of March 24, 1980, the archbishop went to confession, as he did every Monday.

Padre Renderos said Archbishop Romero was warned personally a month earlier by the papal nuncio of Costa Rica of a plot by government death squads to assassinate him and silence the most powerful voice in El Salvador defending the poor. Archbishop Romero took his fears with him to his final spiritual retreat, Padre Renderos said.

“It is difficult for me to accept a violent death, which is very possible under these circumstances,” Archbishop Romero wrote in his journal during his retreat.

“The spiritual director of the exercises encouraged me, saying that my disposition should be to give my life for God, regardless of how my life may end,” he wrote.

By the end of his retreat, Archbishop Romero came to terms with his fears, Padre Renderos said.

“I accept with faith my death, however difficult it may be,” the archbishop wrote.

“I do not wish to state an intention . . . for peace in my country or for the flowering of the church because the heart of Christ knows the plan he has chosen,” he wrote. “It is enough for me to know with assurance that he is in my life and my death, that in spite of my sins, I have put my trust in him and I will not be confounded, and others will pursue with greater wisdom and holiness the works of the church+ and the country.”

“What humility and pureness of heart,” said Padre Renderos. “Without a doubt, only a soul in which God is present, could reveal the divine presence in his life, his words, his actions and his witness.”

Archbishop Romero had just finished his homily at his final Mass, a memorial for Dona Sarita Pinto, the mother of a friend.

“May this sacrificial body and this sacrificial wine for us men and women be sustenance to give our own bodies and blood over to suffering and pain as Christ did, in order to give a vision of justice and peace for our people,” he said. “Let us unite intimately in faith and hope in this moment of prayer for Dona Sarita and for us all.”

“The paid assassin, like Judas, was waiting for this moment to fire,” Padre Renderos said. “In this instant, the assassin’s bullet pierced his heart.”

But as the archbishop himself knew, only his body would die, Padre Renderos said, while his spirit would nourish the people of his church.

“Today as we come to the altar,” Padre Renderos said, “let us also make an offering of our life, taking on the commitment to follow in the footsteps of our pastor and martyr, ‘Saint Romero of the Americas.’”

Friends of Jesus Torres are urging people to contact elected officials in Congress as well as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, to stop Jesus’ deportation. More information can be found online at action.dreamactivst.org/jesusmo.

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  • PMcAtee

    I wonder if Father Tobin has considered criminal activity on the part of Jesus Torres as being the root cause of his problems.  I so, its not mentioned. Its possible that deporting him is more convenient than prosecuting him for criminal actions. 
    This seems like a worthy cause to get involved in as a concerned citizen and Catholic, but its gets much more complicated when you look a little deeper.  Not knowing how to support this issue, I think prayer will have to be my action for now.

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