A New Day Shines – The Tower, March 19 2010
Monseñor, as the people affectionately called Archbishop Oscar Romero, spoke for the poor and powerless while war raged in El Salvador. On March 23, 1980, he called out to the military, “In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression.” Within twenty-four hours of preaching these prophetic words, as Romero concluded his homily during an evening Mass, an assassin’s bullet made him a martyr.
By the date of Romero’s assassination on March 24, 1980, 3,000 people were dying monthly in El Salvador. Bodies piled up in the streets, “disappearances” became daily occurrences, and horrific government policies oppressed millions into poverty and perpetual fear. Few voices spoke out against the regime’s actions and those who did found death at their doorsteps instantly, along with 75,000 other victims by the end of the conflict.
The two powers most capable of stopping the epidemic of suffering and death added to the problems. At the School of the Americas, right here on American soil in Georgia, the United States government trained members of Salvadorian death squads. The Carter and then Reagan administrations financed the Salvadorian government at the rate of $1.3 million daily for over twelve years.
The Catholic hierarchy in the country sent along documents to the Vatican. They criticized those who spoke out against the egregious sins being committed, including a condemnation of Romero. The Vatican itself did little to support the courageous men and women who truly lived out Jesus’ message of peace and justice in Latin America.
Romero started out as anything but a critic of the Salvadorian death machine. His appointment as archbishop arose from his support of the government, the military, and the silent Church hierarchy in El Salvador. His conservative views won him the accolades of those very people perpetrating the war crimes.
Yet, Romero commenced on his conversion journey with the deaths of Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, a small boy, and an elderly farmer in 1977. With new eyes, he realized he could no longer be complicit in the system that had cast the pall of suffering and death on his people.
Thirty years after Romero suffered physical death, strength and wisdom can and must still be drawn from his words, his actions, his life, and ultimately, his martyrdom. His message today is as real as it was in 1980. Though the specific circumstances differ, the theme is the same: a society in love with violence.
This nation continues to spend billions to support a war machine at home and abroad. The Church, for all the beautiful acts of peace committed by individuals, continues to stand, in contrast with Jesus, on the side of war. Thirty years after Romero died, the situations of oppression and violence grows worse in our communities.
As we remember this modern saint next Wednesday, let us renew our commitment to be converted to the true path of the nonviolent Jesus. Most importantly, let us shed the violence held within. Let us become prophets of peace to those immediately around us and to be voices for the voiceless for those around the world.
As we approach Easter, continuing Romero’s memory as peacemaker and prophet enables all of us to truly internalize the radical Gospel message of resurrection Romero so adamantly trusted in.