The first single from The Project’s album “Martyrs Prayers” is a heartfelt tribute to Archbishop Óscar Romero called simply, “Romero.” The unique and inspired album pays tribute to martyrs ancient and new from various Christian denominations. In addition to Romero, whose tribute song also appears in Spanish and Portuguese (the only martyr so honored among those selected), the album features songs about Saints Thomas Becket, Ignatius of Antioch, the martyred Pope Clement, Carpus of Pergamum, Quirinus of Neuss, Sadoth of Seleucia, the orthodox Maria Skobtsova and the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The selections reflect the diversity of the contributing artists who include Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, Methodists and Anglicans as well as varying political persuasions. The result is an honest, earnest and authentic vision that strikes a fitting balance between celebrating the inspiration that martyrs give to us, while sounding an appropriately wistful, melancholy note, acknowledging the inevitable lamentation for what humans can do to the best among us. The album’s promotional materials focus on the provocative question, “What would you die for?”—a question the album’s music seeks to address. The special edition CD that debuted this month includes a wealth of information in liner notes, biographies and resource materials. The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources for the United Methodist Church, has said that the artists’ work presents “the challenge and the opportunity... to dwell in all the riches of prayer, music, art and the drama of liturgy and ritual itself of the entire church in every place, riches all ours to learn from and to share.”
The video for the Romero tribute piece features Michael Glen Bell playing acoustic guitar and singing the lyrics adapted by Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold from Romero’s own words. The lyrics are taken from remarks attributed to Romero by the Guatemalan journalist José Calderón Salazar, who interviewed him on March 11, 1980 for the Mexican newspaper Excelsior, just two weeks before his death. By this time, Romero had come to terms with the fact that he would likely be killed because of his role denouncing atrocities and a pastoral line that some saw as provocative or partisan—accusations that Romero energetically rejected, insisting that he was only following the Gospel to its necessary end. Some of that tension is captured in the song and its music video—directed and edited by Owen Thomas. The video cuts back and forth between the peaceful footage of Bell playing the soulful but strident ballad in a bare chapel, reminiscent of the Divine Providence Chapel where Romero was killed, and stock footage of the Salvadoran upheaval (rendered in black and white), including images of Romero and Romero’s funeral. The tension mounts as the song’s intensity quietly rises over its repetitive refrain:
Let my blood be a seed of freedom/Let my blood be a seed.
Mr. Arnold, who may be seen as the driving force behind the tribute, is familiar with the Romero story and the Salvadoran war, and authored a book called “Prayers of the Martyrs,” which nourishes the spirit, if not the actual content of the album. “My wife, Janet, for a number of years was VP of a Jesuit institution,” Arnold told Super Martyrio. “She made trips to El Salvador and UCA and, for several years, took part in the vigils/protests at SOA at Ft. Benning.” This grounding in the real world only seems to heighten the song’s credibility in its spiritual aspirations: there is nothing manipulative or partisan about its message or tone. “We hope by this CD to give greater exposure to Romero and the martyrs within that wider audience of evangelicals, Anglicans and Roman Catholics—especially those who are younger and have no living memory of the events of 1980,” Mr. Arnold said.
He has made a splendid foray for a noble cause.
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