On the birthday of Saint Romero, August 2020

Published date:
29 August 2020

Below is the editorial from the UCA, the Jesuit University in San Salvador, written for this month's birthday of St Oscar Romero.

Originally published on 14 August 2020 in Spanish (see here), with thanks to Clare Dixon for the translation.

Monseñor Romero is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. This is attested to by the countless artistic works in his honour, as well as by the committees, plazas and parks that bear his name in various countries around the world. In addition to being known and admired, Monseñor was and continues to be a person very much loved by his people, especially by those who feel that his voice represents them.

After his assassination, Monseñor was mourned as a close relative. A phrase of Ignacio Ellacuría expresses clearly what his life means for our history: "With Monseñor Romero, God passed through El Salvador". Pedro Casaldáliga, another great Christian recently departed, baptised him as "Saint Romero of America", capturing, before many others,  the feelings of the most humble and struggling Latin Americans. For Christians, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the life and dedication of the martyred bishop meant seeing up close the face of the God of Jesus, the close, merciful, just God who announces good news to the poor and denounces the sin of injustice.

To commemorate the birth of Monseñor Romero, this August 15, it is appropriate to recall three features of his legacy. First, his work was characterised by his constant awareness of reality: in the difficult circumstances in which he lived, he sought the signs of the times and the will of God. From the perspective of theology, he was in permanent dialogue with the national reality. From that privileged place of observation that was (and still is) the archbishopric, he did not take his eyes off what people were living through. That is why he incarnated the Gospel in the daily life of the people. His testimony demands that we live in openness to reality and take charge of it, as one of the essential means of relating to God. No-one  can say that they love the people of El Salvador whilst their eyes are closed to the structural reality of the country.

Secondly, in times of great socio-economic inequality, social upheaval and state terrorism, Monseñor Romero defended life as a supreme value, denounced human rights violations, and was a word of comfort to the victims. From the tremendous pain caused by the assassination of Rutilio Grande in March 1977 and, two months later, that of Fr. Alfonso Navarro, he drew more impetus to denounce injustice and seek at all costs to stop the war. He said that only social justice was the way to avoid violence and totalitarianism of any kind. He was especially direct with those who held political and economic power, because in their hands were the lives - and also the deaths - of many. The lesson is clear: being on the side of the people means that the most important thing is their life, not wealth, personal image or circumstantial interests.

The third characteristic of Monseñor Romero is his defence of dialogue in a very turbulent time, in which the conflicts that had long been incubating were being exacerbated and violence was presented as the solution to resolve them. His commitment to the need for political dialogue made him an obligatory reference point for the events of his time. In the same way, the conflicts in our current situation should not be an obstacle to establishing dialogue. In the face of the threat of a virus that kills and eats away at the economy, the life of the population should be the most important thing for those in power. If this were the case, dialogue would have been started months ago and would have borne fruit.

These three traits, reference to reality, the life of the people as the first value and dialogue at the service of that value, are absent in the actions of current politicians and rulers. The focus is not on the reality of the people, but on vested interests that make dialogue impossible. Monseñor was ignored; on the contrary, his uncomfortable voice was silenced and thus made universal. On the occasion of his birth and knowing that his image decorates everything from the Presidential House to the offices of opposition politicians, it is appropriate to remember that these three features would help clear the way and give hope to a population that has already suffered too much.