Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 95th birthday, Monseñor Romero

Today is the 95th anniversary of the birth of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador – San Romero of the Americas as many here in Latin America say.

When he was killed at the altar on March 24, 1980, he was a strong advocate of the poor and critic of the repression he saw around him in El Salvador. But he was not always that way.

Many people talk about a conversion of Archbishop Romero after his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, was killed in March 1977. It is very true that that event sparked something within him and opened his heart to be more outspoken in the face of injustice and killing.

But I don’t think it was a road to Damascus experience, where – in one random moment – Monseñor Romero changed.

I think it is more a case of a long conversion where he let himself be opened more to God

His bishop’s motto, taken from St. Ignatius Loyola, was  Sentir con la iglesia – "feel with the church."

But what church?

As a priest in the diocese of San Miguel, Romero did associate with the influential people of the city of San Miguel and throughout the country.  His work with the Cursillos de Cristiandad put him in contact with the political and economic elites in the country.

But he was also known to have a great love for the poor. He would give away the clothes he had to a poor person.

His was the church that cared for the poor.

When he was made auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, something changed and he adopted a much more conservative stance, especially criticizing the Jesuits and other priests who were taking open stand with the poor. But during this time he spent much of his time in the archdiocesan offices, editing the newspaper, and connecting with the powerful..

In those days his church was more the church of the institution.

He was later made bishop of Santiago de María. There his first months were filled with suspicion of the radical priests, especially the Passionists. But several priests and others helped him see the injustice in the coffee fields and throughout the country. His eyes were opened to the poor.

When he was made archbishop of San Salvador in March 1977, he was ready, prepared for a larger task. But it took the death of a dear friend to give him the courage to stand up forcefully, even in the face of opposition by the papal nuncio and other bishops.

He began to see the Church as the People of God, especially the poor.

Therefore to feel with the poor meant feeling the joys and sorrows, the fears and hopes of the people.

And so he was graced by God to become “the voice of the voiceless.”

I believe we are called, as Romero was, to “feel with the church.”

And that church is the church of the poor, of the God who became poor for our sake.

It is the church of the God that Mary praised in her Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55, today’s Gospel, a God
who raises up the lowly,
who casts down the mighty,
who fills the hungry with good things
and sends the rich away empty.
This is the God we should serve – with joy, at the side of the poor.

The Divina Providencia cancer hospital chapel where Romero was martyred

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