Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tribute to a Martyr

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, killed by an assassin trained at Fort Benning Georgia’s infamous “School of the America’s,” now reconstituted as “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” I will do a future posting on Monsignor Romero’s story, but I was moved this morning at Mass when a young Religious Brother from Latin America gave this tribute.
Monsenor Romero,
32nd anniversary of his martyrdom.                                                   24 March, 2012.
Monsenor Oscar Romero
I didn’t have the opportunity to know Monsenor Romero during his life but I have come to know him through a very special way: I know him by his word which became flesh in in the hearts of the Salvadorian people, not only because of his way of life, but also in the way he died. Meeting him in his easy to understand words was for me meeting a man of God whose humility and strength call me to conversion, to conciliation, and to action.

Therefore, In 2006, when I was in the novitiate in Lima, a Carmelite came to our house, and that Carmelite was Father Peter Hinde, who lives in “Ciudad Juarez” where he helps the victims of the violence of the Mexican Drug wars. Father Peter introduced Monsenor Romero’s life to all the novices with a deeply moving reflection about faith and justice, and about Romero’s martyrdom. Moreover, when I moved to El Salvador in 2009, one month before this anniversary, I began to experience and see how Monsenor Romero is alive in the lives of the people there. My experience deepened when I met at UCA (The Jesuit University of Central America) people who have lived and shared with Monsenor Romero during his lifetime. So, now I want to share with you my experience, my understanding and my hope about Monsenor Oscar Romero.

Monsenor Romero was confronted by the particular historical reality, in which the Salvadorian people were living at the time. El Salvador was led by a dictator-president for more than 20 years. In 1979, when the president proposed an agrarian reform favoring exclusively the land-owning minority of the very wealthy, most people disagreed with it as the majority of Salvadorans are very poor. The poor farmers began to protest against the government, asking for justice and for their rights, but, rather than seeking a fair solution, the Government initiated a war in an attempt to silence and oppress the camposinos. Monsenor Romero became archbishop at a time when the war got worse and the historical situation of El Salvador could be defined only as a situation of injustice and oppression. Many priests, religious, and lay leaders of the church were killed, tortured, and “disappeared.” There was no light, but darkness, and therefore, the Presence of God was not to be found.

The second point to consider is that Monsenor Romero made himself responsible for the historical transformation of the reality of the people of El Salvador. Like Jesus, Monsenor Romero put his faith in God, and sought God’s will for his native land, where the death or life of the people was constantly at risk. He was named archbishop in order to keep the Church there
“orthodox” and to distance the Church from a social activism. However, being confronted by the stories of so many people who suffered violence in the concrete historical situation of the Government’s war on the poor caused him to change and to speak out against all the powers which were responsible for the murders of countless people. In El Salvador the Church was, and is still, the official religion of the Government. Therefore, the presence of the archbishop was and is still very important in political events. But, after Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a young boy, and another man were killed, Monsenor Romero decided not attend any political events until the government explained the death of these people. Confronting this experience of death made Archbishop Romero believe that there is no Christian love if there is not justice. As a result, he proclaimed that he would never tire of preaching love and that the Christian has to work to marginalize sin and to plant instead the seeds of the Kingdom of God. Social Activism is not communism. It is not enough for us to save our souls at the last minute before our deaths. The Gospel requires people, the Christians of today, to enter into the historical situation in which we find ourselves and to participate in making the Gospel alive. Salvation comes about in a historical context.

Monsenor Romero, not only spoke against injustice and oppression; he carried on his own shoulders the suffering, the oppression and death of the people suffering the same persecution. He said “the shepherd does not want security if his sheep don’t have it”. Expressing a sign of true and deep humility he said “with this people, it is not difficult to be good shepherd. I ask your prayers, to be firm on this promise, that I will not leave my people, but I will suffer all the risks that my ministry requires”. Also, he understood that in a situation where many people were killed, where the blood of many innocents, of the poor, and of the oppressed, runs on the streets, if the church does not suffer the same persecution, it is not a Church truly rooted in Christ. The church’s mission is to defend the human rights that are being oppressed.

In addition, Monsenor Romero let himself be guided by the reality of offering his life as hope of freedom for his people. John Sobrino says “Monsenor Romero allowed God to be God”. And Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the martyrs of the UCA, reinterpreted Romero’s life saying “By Monsenor Romero, God came down to El Salvador” because Monsenor Romero confessed “the Christian is someone who loves deeply, the Christian is Christ”. Romero had deep faith in God. God was the beginning and the end of life, of justice, of love and of truth. Therefore, Monsenor Romero found God’s presence and mastery in the poor; and the mystery of God Was shown to him by the poor, those who in the eyes of the powerful of this world mean nothing. He was loved by his people and his people felt loved by him acknowledging him a man who comes from God as Good News and as hope of liberation.

Therefore, Brothers, the challenge is how Monsenor Romero can inspire us today. Monsenor Romero invites us to find God in the simplicity, in “la nada”, and live our faith completely. As soon as he became Archbishop, the rich people and the government offered him a beautiful home with every need met. But being consistent with the gospel, and with his people, Archbishop Romero preferred live in a small room adjoining the chapel of the Carmelite Sisters’ chapel. Finally, Brothers, during this Lent, God invites us by the example of Monsenor Romero to conversion becoming the voice that cries in the desert because Lent is preparation for our resurrection, the Resurrection with Chirst that is our salvation. But if we are to be raised with Christ, it is also necessary for us to accompany Jesus in his suffering and cross. Thus, God is knocking the door of our house, and it will depend of us if we open or not our door to him, and invite him to come in and eat with us at our table.

That's the homily--now let's look at the Gospel for tomorrow, the 5th Sunday of Lent, year B and see Monsignor Romero in this context

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."
Philip went and told Andrew;
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.

"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
'Father, save me from this hour?'
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name."
Then a voice came from heaven,
"I have glorified it and will glorify it again."
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
Jesus answered and said,
"This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself."
He said this indicating the sort of death that awaited him.

It does give us something to think about--we can see why the Church calls Jesus "The King of Martyrs" Archbishop Romero is only one of many who follows in the footsteps of his king.

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