Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 20, 2000
Fulfilling Romero's promise
Twenty years ago this week, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was gunned down while celebrating Mass. Following the funeral Mass for Romero six days later, 40 people were murdered without provocation by the army who shot at and bombed an innocent, defenceless crowd.
The assassination of Romero was a watershed moment for the Church in the Americas. The Latin American bishops had previously gathered in the Medellin, Colombia, and Puebla, Mexico, and endorsed the so-called preferential option for the poor - the Church's stance on the side of poor and suffering people. This option for the poor was not a political stance, but a stance of faith. It sees in the powerlessness of Jesus, his suffering and unjustified execution, a natural affinity for all who suffer unjustly. To be in solidarity with Jesus is to be in solidarity with the poor.
When the bishops spoke at Medellin and Puebla, they used words. Some made significant changes in their lifestyles. But Romero paid with his life. The blood he shed on the altar was the fulfillment of the teachings of the Latin American bishops. In recent years, two more Central American bishops have been murdered - Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City.
Although the motives for the shooting of Posadas remain shrouded in mystery, the circumstances of Gerardi's murder make it evident that he was slain for issuing a detailed report describing Guatemalan army involvement in the murders of tens of thousands of innocent people in the country's lengthy civil war.
The cost of speaking the truth in a situation of established privilege and institutionalized violence might well be one's life.
Romero was a man of deep piety, yet one who, when he was named a bishop in 1974, was regarded as weak, old-fashioned and out of touch with social realities. However, as a bishop, he became concerned about the greed of the landowners and the poverty of the campesinos who worked on the coffee plantations.
In 1977, he became archbishop of San Salvador. When the military began murdering priests who were committed to the poor, Romero began to speak against oppression. He condemned the violence of both the left and the right, but the establishment viewed him as a tool of "communists." He called for an end to U.S. military aid to El Salvador and urged soldiers to disobey orders to kill innocent civilians.
Even when his life was threatened, he refused to be silent. Rather, he said, "If they kill me, I say in all humility that I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."
After Romero's death, the civil war in El Salvador grew in intensity before finally sputtering out after a catastrophic loss of life that, like most wars, achieved nothing. El Salvador remains a poverty-stricken and violent country, much of the violence caused by former soldiers who were raised on a diet of intimidation and murder.
The Western world today is not so obsessed with stamping out communism, -a spent political force. But the injustices that made communism attractive to many remain and are now even more clearly the result of a globalization process designed to strengthen the power and wealth of those who are already powerful and rich.
Romero said he would rise again in the Salvadoran people. Mary, the Mother of God, proclaimed her trust in a God who "has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty."
With Romero, we await the fulfillment of these promises - an end that can only be achieved without violence and by the conversion of hearts. The achievement of such an end will not be the full realization of the kingdom of God. But it will be a sure sign that God's kingdom is in our midst.
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