Oscar Romero is a saint and prophet of our times. He accomplished and continues to accomplish what a true saint and prophet should — he makes us uneasy.
Oscar Romero grew up in El Salvador, became a Catholic priest, and in time its Archbishop. Initially he avoided political involvement despite the persecution of Salvadorans by its own government. He did not align himself with progressive priests who called all Catholics to witness to this persecution and to advocate on behalf of the poor. The assassination of his friend Father Rutilio Grande became a personal moment of transformation for him. Archbishop Romero became a vocal proponent of social justice for Salvadoran poor and openly challenged his government as well as guerrilla groups who saw violence as the only solution. He even challenged President Carter to stop sending arms to the Salvadoran army, arms that were used to kill Salvadoran peasants who protested.
Why does St. Oscar Romero make me uncomfortable? First of all, he challenges me to live Christ’s message and to embrace the poor. His message challenges me to confront my own government as it tries to prevent poor people from finding a better life not only by building walls but by labeling all migrants as criminals.
Jesus clearly calls us to hear and respond to “the cry of the poor”. Archbishop Romero heard that call and responded by giving his life.
Archbishop Romero was rejected by his own fellow Bishops, some of whom suggested he developed Marxist leanings. Interesting, isn’t it, that even in our own country, anyone who speaks for the poor is accused of being a “socialist”. Such accusations of Marxist Church leaders and socialist presidential candidates would undoubtedly make Joe McCarthy smile if he were still around.
I don’t have any easy answer as to how I as a Christian should embrace the cause of the poor. But I do know that I must continue to listen to and learn from the great prophets who challenge me to speak to the needs of the poor, be they in El Salvador or Africa or even in the slums of my own country. I cannot call myself Christian and ignore them.
RESOURCES: Many of St. Oscar Romero’s writings, sermons, and radio addresses are collected in the Modern Spiritual Masters series on him edited by Marie Dennis
The film Romero with Raul Julia is a superb and accurate portrayal of St. Oscar Romero’s transformation. It is graphic in its portrayal of the killings, disappearances, and torture of the poor and those who spoke for them.