Archbishop of San Salvador – Voice of the voiceless – Martyr for justice and love of the poor

Oscar Romero, the Latin American Archbishop martyred in 1980, is revered as one of the most outstanding prophetic figures of the 20th century, standing up for the poor and marginalised, and challenging the Church to do the same. His “beatification” (the final step before being called a “Saint”) takes place this weekend, on Saturday 23 May, outside San Salvador Cathedral.
Romero was shot to death while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. No one has ever been prosecuted for the assassination, though it’s widely believed the killers were linked to a right-wing death squad. Gunmen also attacked a massive crowd at Romero’s funeral six days later, leaving dozens dead.

Known formerly as a pious and relatively conservative bishop, nothing in his background suggested that he was a man to challenge the status quo. But at the outset of a bloody civil war in El Salvador in the late 1970s, he became the country’s most courageous and important voice for the poor and victims of human rights abuses.

Following a US-backed coup in October 1979, a violent military regime had taken power. A month before his death, Romero wrote to US President Jimmy Carter asking him to suspend military and economic aid to the government, insisting the new rulers “know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.” Just a day before he was shot, Romero begged – indeed, ordered – soldiers and members of the security forces not to fire on citizens.

From the day he died, Romero has been popularly revered as a martyr and saint. The formal pursuit of canonization, however, was held up for decades – in part, due to conservatives in the Church who felt that his canonization would be seen as an endorsement of left-wing Marxist politics and, more broadly, of “liberation theology”. However, Pope Benedict XVI reopened Romero’s case; while back in 2007, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina told a Salvadoran priest that “to me [Romero] is a saint and a martyr … If I were pope, I would have already canonized him.”

Why is Oscar Romero’s beatification so significant?
There are four reasons why the Romero beatification is a significant turning point for the Catholic Church.

First, it marks a healing of tensions over “liberation theology,” a movement in Latin American Catholicism promoting social justice. Its core idea is the “option for the poor,” meaning the Church should have a special concern, as Christ did, for the downtrodden and people at the margins. Titanic battles raged over liberation theology in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, a moderate consensus has taken hold: If “liberation theology” means armed Marxist rebellion and the reduction of politics to class struggle, the answer is no. If it means fighting poverty and struggling for justice, it’s yes! Beatifying Romero, a hero to the liberation theology movement, amounts to an endorsement of this consensus.

Second, Romero becomes a patron saint for persecuted Christians everywhere, at a time when anti-Christian violence has become a leading human rights challenge.

Third, the beatification ratifies a new standard for what counts as “martyrdom.” It’s no longer necessary to die explicitly in odium fidei, at the hands of those who hate the faith, which was the traditional test. Now martyrdom includes dying in odium caritatis, as a victim of those motivated by a hatred of charity. Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of liberation theology, recently said, “This is Latin American martyrdom: To give one’s life for justice, for the love of the people ….”
Fourth, Romero symbolizes the socially engaged Church Pope Francis wants to lead: “a poor Church for the poor.”

Issued by Rosebank Parish J&P group
Adapted from an article by John Allen Jnr in CRUX –