Today marks the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980) – the remarkable 20th-century prophet from El Salvador, who once affirmed that: “We are workers, not master builders or messiahs. We are prophets of a future, not our own.”
This day should not pass unnoticed because of the continuous and useful updates on the COVID-19 pandemic or other recent issues in our country. In the last years of his life, following the killing of the Jesuit priest, Rutilio Grande, Romero who had previously been cautious in his words, became more crystal-clear in the loud message he was duty-bound to proclaim – a message based on the dignity of the human person. That was in the context of the civil strife in the Central American nation where he lived and exercised his pastoral ministry.
Romero left no stone unturned in denouncing poverty, injustice, assassinations and torture in El Salvador. He was a man of God and a man of the people. His assassination while celebrating the Eucharist in an oncology hospital chapel served to alert the rest of the world about the oppression and the injustice which many peoples in Latin America were undergoing.
Forty years after his violent death, Romero’s blood still cries out. It is not a cry of vengeance but a cry for reconciliation and forgiveness. Romero’s message remains a relevant one, four decades later.
It is indeed amazing that, Romero, a Roman Catholic archbishop, is held in high esteem beyond Catholicism. He is liturgically honoured by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, and by a Lutheran liturgical calendar. Remarkably, Romero is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs whose statues adorn the space about the Great Western Door of Westminster Abbey, London.
Romero enjoys international acclaim, even beyond the confines of Christianity. Indeed, 10 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day of Romero’s assassination, March 24, as the annual International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.
On March 22, Rhina Guidos writing for Catholic News Service, stated that: “Before COVID-19 brought public gatherings to a halt worldwide, celebrations for the 40th anniversary of St Romero’s martyrdom were planned well outside of the Church in El Salvador, in England and Belgium, including a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. But in the time of coronavirus, bishops in El Salvador, who also had to cancel celebrations for the milestone celebration, told the faithful to find comfort in and turn to powerful intercessors in heaven – including one of their own – in a time of crisis.”
It is indeed timely that we not only commemorate the courage and the witness borne by women and men, of Romero’s mettle, but to embrace their prophetic message based on the common good, solidarity, justice and the upholding of human rights in all parts of the world. I am struck by these words by Romero: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enable us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”
I think these are words of wisdom which can help us in these challenging times.
Fr Hector Scerri is academic member, Faculty of Theology
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