Oscar Romero

What Would Oscar Romero Say Today About El Salvador?

Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain
Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain

Central America needs help expanding education opportunities, building child welfare systems, and sheltering victims of violence and witnesses to crime. But none of these reforms can be sustained unless Central American governments also work to eradicate corruption and reform their judicial systems.

As Romero said during a time of similar urgency, “On this point there is no possible neutrality. We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. … We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

Oscar Romero Declared a Martyr as Vatican Inches Him Toward Sainthood

Photo of mural via Franco Folini / Flickr / RNS
Mural of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero by Juana Alicia. Photo of mural via Franco Folini / Flickr / RNS

Archbishop Oscar Romero, the hero of the Catholic left who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, is inching one step closer to sainthood after his case languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades.

According to the Italian Catholic bishops daily, Avvenire, a panel of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has ruled unanimously that Romero should be considered a martyr, or murdered “in odium fidei” (Latin for “hatred of faith”).

The paper reported the ruling was made on Jan. 7. The move is considered a decisive step on Romero’s path to sainthood.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead by right-wing death squads while celebrating Mass in March 1980. His murder came a day after he delivered a homily calling for soldiers to lay down their guns and end government repression in the country’s bloody civil war.

Vatican Says No Movement (Yet) on Sainthood for Oscar Romero

An icon shows the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980. Religion News Service file photo

Despite fevered speculation in the media and across Latin America, the Vatican says Pope Francis has not advanced slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero toward sainthood — at least, not yet.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass only a day after he delivered a homily calling on Salvadoran soldiers to stop enforcing government repression and human rights violations.

Pope John Paul II gave him the title “servant of God” in 1997 and the case for his canonization began. But the case stalled under the papacy of Benedict XVI over concerns that Romero was too close to the liberation theology that John Paul and Benedict spent years trying to repress.

Francis revived the cause soon after he was elected last year, and recent reports in several languages have suggested that church officials were poised to beatify Romero, putting him one step short of sainthood.

Sacred Medicine

TWO OF MY greatest teachers were Latin American men, both ordained as Catholic priests. One, Archbishop Oscar Romero, was assassinated in 1980. I never met him, being a 20-year-old American who’d never set foot in El Salvador or anywhere else in Latin America. But Romero made me, a lapsed Catholic, wonder why his views—our views, if Christian social teaching means anything at all—would be viewed with murderous hostility by the Salvadoran elite. After all, it was all right there in the Book. Wasn’t it?

The truth was, I didn’t know. Was it worth looking at books about these matters? That’s what we believed in medical school: Look it up! So Romero led me to the second of these teachers who, I’m happy to say, is alive and well and living (mostly) in Lima, Peru. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a diminutive and humble Dominican priest and a great friend of Romero’s, taught me through his books, from The Power of the Poor in History toWe Drink from our Own Wells, and later through his friendship and his almost mystical (to me, in any case) optimism.

Over the course of my 20s, the slender, frayed thread of my own faith, which I had believed cut, slowly came back into view. There was a filament a bit stronger than imagined, made visible in part by my Haitian hosts and patients and friends, and in part by Catholic social activists working against poverty in settings as different as tough neighborhoods in Boston, the farms of North Carolina, and the slums of Lima.

Some were nuns or priests, some were engaged laity, from many professions. Most were people living in and struggling against their own and others’ poverty. Their activism taught me a lot about a space in the Catholic Church I’d not seen clearly before, and about the promise of long-term engagement in the monumental struggle against poverty and discrimination in all its forms. That includes gender inequality, no stranger to the institution. Most of the most inspiring activists were women.

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Romero's Glasses

Alex Bowie/Getty Images
Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917 - 1980) at home in San Salvador, 20th November 1979. Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is a poem written by Trevor Scott Barton following reading The Violence of Love by Archbiship Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980.

Children
longing for a hero,
living love, peace and hope,
protecting ordinary people from extraordinary hatred and violence,
peaceful hero,
dying for the cause but not killing for it,
denying guns and bombs their power,
risking the violence of love.
Conserving tradition at first for the greatest,
seeing through your glasses at last for the least,
feeling the hunger of underpaid workers,
knowing the poverty of farmers,
hearing the warning, "Here's what happens to priests who get involved in politics,
holding tears of the disappeared.
Challenging,
calling all to view the liberating body of a slain priest,
serving the poor,
using words to build up humanity and tear down injustice,
"In the name of God, stop killing ..."
offering crucifixion,
discovering resurrection.

My Morning Prayer

Giving word cloud, Genotar / Shutterstock.com
Giving word cloud, Genotar / Shutterstock.com

Dear God,

As my son Zeke says in his daily prayers, so I say in our prayer this morning, "Thank you for all of the good things in the world."

One of those good things happened to me when I stopped by the water company to pay  my bill. I walked into the building and stopped at the receptionist's desk to borrow a pen to write the check. I heard a family behind me and turned a saw a small child leading her mother by the hand, a mother carrying a baby in the cradle of her arm. The child listened to her Mother speak to her in Spanish, then looked at the receptionist and asked in English, "Can you show us where to pay our bill."

Suddenly and surprisingly the child looked up at me and threw her arms around me in a happy hug. "Mr. Barton!" she said. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Barton!"

From the Archives: May 1980

Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can do only as much as God makes us able to; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be. To place all these limitations in God’s hands, to recognize that without God we can do nothing, is to have a sense, my beloved brothers and sisters, that a transcendent meaning of this time in El Salvador means to pray much, to be very united with God. ...

Do you see how life recovers all of its meaning? And suffering then becomes a communion with Christ, the Christ that suffers, and death is a communion with the death that redeemed the world? Who can feel worthless before this treasure that one finds in Christ, that gives meaning to sickness, to pain, to oppression, to torture, to marginalization? No one is conquered, no one; even though they put you under the boot of oppression and of repression, whoever believes in Christ knows that he [or she] is a victor and that the definitive victory will be that of truth and justice! ...

We want the government to seriously consider that reforms mean nothing when they come bathed in so much blood. Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: Cease the repression!

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador preached this sermon on March 23, 1980, the day before his assassination.

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