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Walking with the Poor and Oppressed: St Oscar Romero

Author: Martin Brown

Picture: CAFOD

Walking with the Poor and Oppressed: St Oscar Romero

The life of Oscar Romero, who became a voice for the voiceless in El Salvador and is canonised today, reminds us that following Jesus means standing up for the poor, says Martin Brown.

1970: the year the Beatles disbanded, the Apollo 13 accident.. and the year Oscar Romero became a Bishop in El Salvador.

Violence increased in El Salvador, Romero's home country, throughout the 1970s, as the government and army oppressed the poor, who campaigned for their rights.

The rich and ruling elite thought he was a safe choice as Archbishop of San Salvador – someone who would discourage priests from standing up for the poor. However, in what has been described as Romero's 'Gethsemane', his close friend, Fr Rutilio Grande, was shot dead.

This confronted Romero with the reality of life for many and presented him with a choice.

"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried."

Choosing to stand with the poor, whom Fr Rutilio served, Romero spoke out publicly about the murders and continued to speak against oppression- despite the death-threats.

These were no empty threats, but Romero was faithful and determined. Celebrating Mass on 24 March 1980, he was shot and killed following an order by a Major from the El Salvadoran military.

This clip, from the movie Romero, illustrates Romero's passion for the poor and God's justice.

 

"I do not believe in death without resurrection. If you kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."

Some of you will have been fortunate enough to see the Rise Theatre play, “Romero – Heartbeat of El Salvador” and hopefully you were inspired. Why do so many people find him inspirational?

Romero is declared a saint on 14 October 2018.

In his Christianity, he was not solely concerned with eternity, but with the lived experience of his people.

He was brave enough to go on a journey of greater conversion and humble enough to be open to the Spirit’s guidance.

He left the table of the rich and powerful to follow Christ, walking the streets with the poor and oppressed through a lifestyle of simplicity and compassion.

“A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle...what gospel is that?”

He used his power for those who had no power – a sure sign of Christ-likeness– in life and in death.

He was also not afraid of people – not just scary people with guns, but real people. He spent time with them and was challenged by them. He was not afraid- or at least he constantly overcame that fear to do what he thought was right.

Oscar Romero understood that God's heart was filled with a great and passionate love for His people and a special concern for the poor. He understood the Gospel. 

He stood up to power, he used his voice, presenting the truth and calling for justice and peace.

He saw all people as neighbours and attacked the structures that kept his neighbours oppressed.

What Can Romero Teach Us?

Romero challenges us to listen to God and be convicted.

When we know a course of action is right, his example calls us to do it without distraction, without looking back.

Romero stood in the power and humility of Christ for the oppressed people of El Salvador.

Who is in your heart? For whom do you have a special concern? For whom will you stand, in the Spirit, the power and the humility of Christ?

St Oscar Romero, pray for us.

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