Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was shot while celebrating Mass in the chapel of La Divina Providencia Hospital on this day in 1980. It was one day after a sermon in which he appealed to Salvadoran soldiers – as Christians – to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government sponsored repression of the poor and denial of their fundamental human rights. An estimated 250,000 people participated in his funeral six days later in the Cathedral of San Salvador. I have had the privilege of visiting the chapel, Romero’s modest residence on the hospital grounds and to pray at his tomb three times over the years.
We do well to hear his words again today:
“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
One day before he died: “When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”
And seconds before he was shot: “I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”
Today Romero is popularly referred to as San Romero among Salvadorans. He is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, a testament to the wide respect for him even beyond the Catholic Church. In 2008, he was chosen as one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy by the Europe-based magazine A Different View. In 1982 Pope John Paul II prayed at Romero’s tomb on his first visit to El Salvador and officially recognized him as a “Servant of God” in 1997. It is widely presumed that Archbishop Romero will be beatified during 2017, the centennial year of his birth.
What would Archbishop Romero say about all the fanfare and adulation? I’m pretty sure he’d challenge us to ask what is it about us that needs to place others on pedestals, declaring another’s faith “saintly” as if it were rare… and rarefied!!! He would likely explain he was simply doing what needed doing in service of the Gospel… that we should expect our shepherds to smell like their sheep. Would that we had many more pastors and bishops who cared for the vulnerable and poor with such evangelical clarity and passion! I suspect he’d tell us to be careful about pointing fingers, questioning whether anyone should be on a pedestal. With genuine pastoral humility he would say, “What about you? Tell me more about you.”
What about us? You? Me! How am I going to live the Gospel – today, here, now?