On Sunday, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Pope Paul VI will be canonized in ceremonies officiated by Pope Francis in Rome. Pope Paul VI had named Romero archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, during the Central American country’s bloody, civil war.
In El Salvador, the celebration has already begun with cultural activities, witness testimonies, youth-led processions and an all-night procession and vigil on Saturday ending in the central plaza of the capital, San Salvador. Giant TV screens will enable the thousands gathered to watch the ceremony in Rome.
I am so excited to join with the Conference of Religious of Guatemala and participate in the celebration in El Salvador.
In Latin America, Oscar Romero has long been considered a saint, but it has taken Vatican officials 38 years to recognize his life, witness and martyrdom.
He was one of countless Salvadorans killed by repressive government forces that were supported by the U.S.
Romero was celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980 in a small chapel of a church-run hospital in the capital when a gunman emerged from the street and shot him to death.
Romero was a simple man who tried to follow God and called wrong, wrong. He himself said “I believe there is no justice without truth.” And so he spoke out on behalf of the poor and victimized.
Many say the assassination of his Jesuit priest friend, Rutilio Grande, in 1977 led to Romero’s conversion from a quiet, obedient pastor to a voice for the voiceless. But when asked about that, he replied, “I wouldn’t say it’s been a conversion, but an evolution.”
And isn’t that true for all of us? Life rarely offers a single blinding moment of clarity and commitment, but rather a day-by-day awareness of the situations we face as individuals and community. In it is God’s call to make decisions that affirm the Gospel message.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were not comfortable with Romero’s embrace of liberation theology and his very public denunciation of government and military killings and kidnappings.
Other priests and bishops called him a revolutionary and he suffered martyrdom even while he was living. But he continued speaking out in weekly homilies broadcast throughout El Salvador. On the eve of his murder, he delivered a homily in which he implored Salvadoran soldiers to obey God and disobey government orders to repress, murder and violate human rights of fellow Salvadorans. Surely, that sealed his fate.
I don’t know of any bishop in our day, in our country, who has so taken up the plight of the poor and the unjust systems that continue to enslave them and who speaks out from a complete embrace of Jesus’ witness.
Two years into his papacy, Pope Francis authorized the cause for beginning the canonization process. The fact that Romero is being canonized in Rome and not in El Salvador sends two messages:
- Pope Francis is holding up Romero as the model pastor and bishop for clerics gathered in Rome and around the world.
- And, Romero does not only belong to El Salvador, as Santo Romero of the Americas, but the world.
Who was this man and why is he important for us today? The ground of his evolution, his prophetic life and his martyrdom was Jesus. He knew Jesus, loved him and wanted to follow his way even to the eventual consequences. That was the reason he was criticized, called crazy, conspirator, revolutionary and possessed by the devil. Like Jesus, he was killed by orders of the government.
I think of our ASC sisters murdered in Liberia, Africa, 26 years ago this month, during the civil war there. Think of their prophetic stand to be with the suffering people. To be present. To stand for truth. And they paid the price.
I am so blessed to be able to stand with the Salvadoran people in this moment of great violence in their country, and say: “We ASCs are with you. We will re-commit to immerse ourselves anew in the Gospel call and to speak for those who rely on us to call wrong, wrong.”
The Church needs a clear witness of the radical call to discipleship. We are living in a time when terrible sins have come to light. We can and we must be a clear example of the need for prophetic voices. Our choices must reflect the truth of our faith and vocation.
May it be so.