A Reflection on the Canonisation to Sainthood of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero
In Rome on14th October, 2018, Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI will be canonised as saints. As a Mercy Sister, who ministered in Peru for a number of years, I would like to share my reflections on Oscar Romero.
For the majority of the people of El Salvador, and throughout the Latin American Continent, Oscar Romero became a saint on 24th March 1980, the day a sniper shot him through the heart while he celebrated mass in a hospital near his home. Rome moves slowly and has taken nearly thirty years to catch up with the people of Latin America!
During the war in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992 over 75,000 people, lost their lives, many killed brutally. Most of them were civilians, including lay catechists, sisters and priests. In my opinion, they too are saints. The majority died in the pursuit of justice, defending their God-given rights: ownership of their own land, a decent quality of life and recognition as full citizens in their own country.
Much has been written on Oscar Romero who became the Archbishop of San Salvador on 3rd February 1977 and who was dedicated to serving the Salvadorians, saying My life is not mine, but yours. His close friend Fr Rutilio Grande, ministering with the rural poor farmers, shared with Romero the injustices the poor encountered. He encouraged Romero to use his influence as Archbishop to challenge the political system which was the cause of many of the injustices.
On the 12th March 1977, on their way to Mass, Rutilio Grande was murdered, along with a young boy and his father. Rutilio Grande’s death deeply affected Romero and marked a turning point in his life. While Romero, prior to Grande’s death was aware of the sufferings of the poor, the death of his friend led to a new understanding of his public role. In his diary, he wrote: Between the powerful and the wealthy, and the poor and vulnerable, who should a pastor side with? I have no doubts. A pastor should stay with the people.
Romero did stay with the poor and the vulnerable and those in solidarity with them. He listened to them, met with them, helped them, and reflected on their experiences. The encounters with the poor enabled him to understand more profoundly the Gospel and the teachings of the church and resulted in his locus theologicus. With this new understanding, Romero, like the prophets of old, publicly denounced the many injustices, along with the state for its policies and practices which were not of the Kin(g)dom of God.
Even though he realised his outspokenness endangered his life, he became a fearless prophet of God, challenging constantly the endemic injustices and loss of life happening on a daily basis. His homilies were transmitted live on national radio and across the Latin American Continent bringing awareness the many injustices in the lives of the poor of El Salvador.
The reality of his own death was frequently before him, as it was with all those in solidarity with the poor. Three weeks before his death he said: If they kill me. I will rise again in the Salvadorian people. Romero knew that it was the poor Salvadorian people who would continue in their struggle to seek justice regardless of how many people were killed.
On 14th March, ten days before he was murdered, Romero preached that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of much bloodshed. He pleaded with the government, to stop the oppression In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression. As a consequence of his solidarity with the poor, his belief in the message of the Gospels and his condemnation of oppressive structures he was assassinated on the 24th March, 1980.
The cost of giving one’s life in the pursuit of justice continues in the Continent of Latin America and indeed beyond. Latin America is noted as being one of the most dangerous region of the world for environmental human rights defenders.
The canonisation of Oscar Romero is a call to conversion. A conversion for all to listen and to respond to the voice of God who is incarnate in our world. Conversion asks for painful change, being in the messiness of life without answers, in a place of solidarity with others reflecting and listening, building bridges, attending to the signs of the times, hearing again the preferential option for the poor and finding our locus theologicus in the midst of the present day reality. A reality where those on the margin suffer, whether it is the people of Latin America, those in war zones, the economically poor, migrants and refugees, women, LGTBI people, indigenous people, those sexually and emotionally abused by church personnel and others, the children, the orphans, the sick, the homeless, the elderly, the lonely as well as with all those committed to defending our earth.
Oscar Romero’s canonisation is a reminder to the church, the people of God; a reminder to establish the Kin(g)dom of God, a place where peace and equality exist and where we allow the reign of God to flow through our lives. Like Oscar Romero, may we hear the call to conversion and be fearless enough to allow transformation to take place in our own lives. As Romero once said: there are still many questions waiting to be answered. Much thinking remains to be done. We must do it together.
May the life of St Oscar Romero be an inspiration to all of us, as we strive to be a Mercy Global Presence responding to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor in a new way.
Messages to: Sheila Curran rsm (The Congregation)