Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 1, 2004
Romero shephered his peasants
By WCR Staff
Archbishop Oscar Romero was a surprise in history. He was appointed archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 as a compromise candidate among conservative fellow bishops.
But an event would take place within three weeks of his election that would transform the ascetic and timid Romero. The new archbishop's first priest, Father Rutilio Grande, was ambushed along with two parishioners. Grande was a target because he defended the peasant's rights to organize farm cooperatives. He said that the dogs of the big landowners ate better food than the campesino children whose fathers worked their fields.
Romero drove out to view Grande's body. In a packed church Romero encountered the silent endurance of peasants, their eyes asking: Will you stand with us as Rutilio did?
Romero's "yes" was in deeds. The peasants had asked for a good shepherd and that night they received one.
All Romero had to offer the people were weekly homilies broadcast throughout the country, his voice assuring them, not that atrocities would cease, but that the Church of the poor, themselves, would live on.
"If some day they take away the radio station from us . . . if they don't let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."
Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while presiding at the Eucharist. The day before, he openly challenged an army of peasants, whose high command feared and hated his reputation.
His voice rose to breaking, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God . . . "
There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny. Then his voice burst, "In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."
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