Remembering OscarRomero


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Today, Oscar Romero is being beatified in El Salvador, in recognition of his holy life. As many recent articles on Romero have noted,* Pope Francis’s recognition of him as a martyr (literally, “witness” to the faith) marks a shift in expanding the ways that martyrdom for the faith may be understood. Francis names him as a martyr killed in odium fidei, out of hatred for the faith. The emphasis here is not on being killed because named himself as Christian, but because of how he lived out his life as a Christian: preaching on behalf of the poor and oppressed in solidarity with them.

In a philosophy, theology, and service learning class that I teach at Boston College, we read Gustavo Gutierrez’s “Notes on Liberation Theology,” read a few excerpts from Romero’s preaching, and I ask them to watch the Romero film starring Raul Julia before coming to class. Students are often struck by how powerfully Julia portrays Romero’s transformation from a man who seems unwilling to make waves  to an outspoken and courageous leader. Romero was initially placed in his position of bishop because he was perceived as bookish and non-confrontational. However,  especially after the murder of his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutillo Grande, SJ—who had influenced Romero profoundly —Romero became increasingly active in speaking out to defend the poor  against repression. (Romero himself also attributed his shift in concerns  to time spent with poor people when he was bishop of Santiago de Maria.)

This transformation shows a person who does not initially feel his own sense of power to effect change become aware of the necessity to act and speak in ways that are authentic to his sensibilities about injustice in his immediate environment. Romero did not know the effect that his own life would have, but he acted with faith and hope that what he said and did in solidarity with the poor mattered—even to the point of death.

Romero saw this task of speaking out with the poor not as his alone as bishop or priest, but rather as something that belongs to all Christians: “Each one of you must be God’s microphones….Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.” Here Romero points to the idea that we are not speaking out for the poor but with the poor when we act and live in solidarity.

Pope Francis has clearly taken up this mission one who speaks out on behalf of the poor and oppressed. We also have this mission as ordinary Christians to stand in solidarity with the interests of those who are poor or marginalized in our own cities, countries, and as citizens of the world. We may not be martyrs in the sense that we are called to die for the faith, but we are all called to be martyrs in the most basic sense of being “witnesses” to the faith, in our words and in our actions.

*See for example: 

Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons at:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Oscar_Romero#/media/File:Conmemoracion_240307_006.JPG