March 24 – Oscar Romero

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Oscar Romero, martyr

When Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977, the priests who were socially involved were unenthusiastic. Born in 1917 in Ciudad Barrios he had five brothers and two sisters. He was ordained in Rome in 1942 and began doctoral studies in ascetical theology but was called home from Fascist Italy. On route he made stops with another priest in Spain and Cuba. In Cuba they were placed in an internment camp for a time. He worked as a parish priest for 20 years in San Miguel. Romero rose gradually from parish priest, to secretary to a bishop, to auxiliary bishop, to finally an archbishop.

He was said to be a man of prayer but conventional in his outlook. His very installation was used by the authorities to step up their reign of terror in El Salvador. However, when a massacre took place, Romero indicated that he agreed with the sentiment of a message, which had been distributed among the crowd, which said: “The church is where it always should have been; with the people, surrounded by wolves.”

The martyrdom of Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who had been totally identified with the peasant poor of the countryside, along with two friends, moved Romero deeply when he went to the scene. He urged the government to investigate the deaths but they ignored his request. He began to come in conflict with the repressive government. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. On a visit to Europe he met Pope John Paul II and expressed his concerns at what was happening in his country. He criticised the US government for giving military aid to the El Salvadoran government. He encouraged the development of new liturgies and more meaningful modes of worship. Ministering in a revolutionary situation, he was criticised for his innovations and his call for the church to become the voice of those who had no voice. His broadcast sermon on a Sunday began to attract a large audience. Romero became known as a champion of the poor. He knew he was courting death. He hoped that through his death he would contribute to the transformation of El Salvador. In a sermon the day before his death he called on Salvadoran soldiers as Christians to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.

On 24 March, 1980 this small gentle man was saying the Mass. As he reached the words of the consecration: “This is my body given for you …. this is my blood shed for you” a shot rang out and the archbishop fell to the ground, killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. A friend of the people, one who desired peace and justice, he had become an enemy of those in power. Oscar Romero is remembered as a champion of the poor, a person who lived and died for Christ, a martyr for God and the people. His voice and witness is heard today especially in contexts of oppression. He is an inspiration to all who would follow Christ and accept the cost of discipleship.

Contributed by Chris Walker