Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 14, 2005
Romero lives among his people
25 years after his murder, archbishop is still an inspiration
By WCR Staff
Aquarter century after his death, Archbishop Oscar Romero is still alive among his people.
"We are very proud of him," said Jose Alberto Gonzalez of the ecclesial base communities of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. "He showed us the way we should be as Christians. He was killed because he sided with the poor and the oppressed, because he spoke out against injustice and against violence. He went all the way to show his love for his people."
Gonzalez said many Salvadorans like him regard Romero as a prophet and a saint.
"He said, 'If they kill me I will resurrect among the people of El Salvador' and that actually happened not only in El Salvador but also throughout Latin America."
Bookworm to shepherd
Romero was a surprise in history. He was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 as a compromise candidate among his conservative fellow bishops. He was predictable, an orthodox, pious bookworm who criticized those progressive clergy who championed the new liberation theology and aligned themselves with the impoverished farmers seeking land reform. But an event would take place within three weeks of his appointment that would transform the ascetic and timid Romero.
The new archbishop's vicar general, Rutilio Grande, was ambushed and killed along with two parishioners. Grande was a target because he defended the peasants' rights to organize farm cooperatives. He said 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 and the old man and the seven-year-old who were killed with him. In a packed country church Romero encountered the silent endurance of peasants who were facing rising terror. Their eyes asked the question only he could answer: Will you stand with us as Rutilio did? Romero's "yes" was shown in his deeds. The peasants had asked for a good shepherd and that night they received one.
The archbishop's great helplessness was that he could not stop the violence. 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.
He stated, "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."
Stop the repression
Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while presiding at the Eucharist. The day before he openly challenged an army composed mainly 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."
Thunderous applause. The archbishop 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."
Days before his murder, Romero told a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish."
At Archbishop Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton they call the martyred archbishop a "prophet for God's justice and peace" and say their aim is to create a school culture based on his teachings. "The impact Msgr. Romero's had on so many people in the Latin American community is strong and we are proud to have our school named after him," said Principal Mike Carby.
"Many schools are named after saints who have perished hundreds of years ago. Ours is named after someone who worked among his people only 25 years ago and there are people in the community that I've met who actually worked with Msgr. Romero personally; that makes him very contemporary."
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