Father Tom Murphy
Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Bishop and Martyr
Almighty God, you called your servant Óscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and forever. Amen.
Today the Church chooses to remember and celebrate the life of Monseñor Oscar Romero in this the Centenary of his birth. Born in 1917 in a village in El Salvador, he studied to be a priest and saw himself as a pastor — someone called to serve all. Romero has been described as “bookish.” He was not seen as a very strong leader.
In an essay written by Remy Golden called Oscar Romero: Bishop of the Poor, Golden describes Romero as a “surprise in history.” “The poor never expected him to take their side and the elites of Church and State felt betrayed.” Romero had been chosen to head the Bishops’ conference in El Salvador because he was predictable and a critic of liberation theology.
However, in the first week of his Episcopacy, a priest colleague and friend, the Reverend Rutilio Grande, and two parishioners, an old man and a seven year old boy, were ambushed and killed. Father Rutilio had defended the peasants’ rights to organize farm cooperatives. The deaths of Father Rutilio and his traveling companions were the beginnings of a metanoia for Archbishop Romero, a conversion and an experience of Christ in the poor of El Salvador.
Monseñor Romero came to know Jesus in a new light, a new way: “If we could see that Christ is the needy one, the torture victim, the prisoner, the murder victim, and in each figure so shamefully thrown by our roadsides could see Christ himself cast aside, we would pick him up like a medal of gold to be kissed lovingly. The person is Christ, and in the person viewed and treated with faith we look on Christ our Lord.”
“God in Christ dwells near at hand to us. Christ has given us a guideline ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat.’ Where someone is hungry, there is Christ near at hand. ‘I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.’ When someone comes to your house to ask for water, it is Christ, if you look with faith. In the sick person longing for a visit Christ tells you, ‘I was sick and you came to visit me.’
On the night before he died, Archbishop Romero appealed to the soldiers of El Salvador, mostly peasants, to not kill their brothers. He called for civil disobedience; to lay down their weapons, to stop the repression. The next morning, as Romero celebrated the Eucharist, a sniper shot him and ended his life.