Oscar Romero: Martyr, Friend to the Poor, Prophet of Justice

In 1977, Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador an appointment that pleased the government of that country, but disappointed many priests in El Salvador, especially those openly aligned with Marxism. Romero was somewhat conservative and generally was not a rock the boat kind of guy.

But something happened to change Romero. Only a few months after he became Archbishop, a progressive Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who was a personal friend of Romero and who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.'” Romero asked the government to investigate the death of his friend, but they ignored his request.

From that point on, Romero was a changed man. Rutilio’s death helped Romero grow into his role as a voice for the voiceless. He became a strong voice against the violence and injustice that was being perpetrated on the people of El Salvador.

In one of his sermons, Romero warned, “If you live out a Christianity that is good but that is not sufficient for our times, that doesn’t denounce injustice, that doesn’t proclaim the kingdom of God courageously, that doesn’t reject the sins humankind commits, that consents to the sins of certain classes so as to be accepted by those classes, then you are not doing your duty, you are sinning, you are betraying your mission. The church was put here to convert humankind, not to tell people that everything that they do is all right; and, because of that, naturally, it irritates people. Everything that corrects us irritates us.”

As Romero recognized, “it is easier to preach lies, to conform to the situation so as not to lost your advantages, so that you always have friends that flatter you, so that you have power.” Nonetheless we are called to speak the truth, even when doing so means personal loss. That takes enormous courage and enormous faith, of which Romero is a powerful model.

That kind of courage has consequences. On March 24, 1980, Romeo presided at a special evening mass. That evening he proclaimed from the Gospel of John, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As he concluded his sermon, which preached the need to give one’s life for others as Christ did, he was shot in the heart and died almost immediately.

Romero was tireless in his call for solidarity with the poor and oppressed, a voice for those who had no voice. He was strident in his denunciation of violence and called for a culture of peace and an end to the killings that were destroying his country.

On this anniversary of his assassination, we remember Oscar Romero, martyr, friend to the poor and prophet of justice.

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One thought on “Oscar Romero: Martyr, Friend to the Poor, Prophet of Justice

  1. My friend Sabatina James, the young Muslim woman in Germany. Her story of being condemned to death for rejecting and arranged marriage as a young girl and her conversion to Catholicism was retold at the Women of the World Summit earlier this month. She reminds me daily of Romero’s courage and faith. Without a home and under threat of death, she remains a voice for many who have been rejected by family and faith.

    “…What Christians can do is these women they flee from home they don’t have anything. They don’t have a family, don’t have any finances, they don’t have anything. What they really need is people who say that you are welcome to our family.

    They do not always want to go to a shelter home because they think that only bad women go to shelter home. So what they need is a family.

    What we need is Christians to speak out that they are there for them and let them know that if I go away from home there is hope for me and somebody may be my family.

    You know it is very hard to be without your father, your mother and to leave everything behind you. I cried many, many nights and felt alone and just a few days ago I was like, “God, I don’t think there is anybody who can understand what I’m going through because nobody in the Western community goes through something like that.” That if they decide for Jesus their family persecutes them.” – Sabatina, May 2010

    She shared this week,

    “…It is not about condemning a religion in general but achieving attention for certain issues like disrespect for women rights, contempt of freedom of speech and persecution of other religions. Unfortunately, these things happen on a daily basis in muslim countries and only education and solidarity can solve these problems.”
    – Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 3:10pm

    Please add her and the young women she reaches out to in your prayers this Holy Week.

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