The 35th Anniversary of the Death of Oscar Romero
A life, a love, a Martyrdom
The 35th Anniversary of the Death of Oscar Romero
A life, a Martyrdom, a hope
How are Martyrs meant to be role models? This is the question I ponder today on this anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was an unassuming man who just loved Catholicism from the beginning of his life, with a modest but not destitute background. However, with his friends dying, and finally seeing the world for what it is, Romero ended up going on to become one of the great heroes and great martyrs of the 20th century. And in his change, he challenges and asks us to reconsider any of the easy answers we give ourselves in our daily lives of living in a fallen world.
Perhaps one of the most important things to know about my background with Romero is that the religious studies department was gracious enough to offer a senior seminar on the life of all martyrs of El Salvador this past quarter. Taught by professor Pineda, the class really opened me up to understanding who Oscar Romero was, and just why his impact in the country is so important to understand not just for them, but for us as well. In particular, there’s the fact that the people of El Salvador venerate him like no other especially if they’re from a lower class background.
Oscar Romero was born August 15th, 1917 to a lower middle class family, but his first love was always the church. Ever since a real bishop came to his town, he wanted to be just like him, to serve God and help people. He studied hard, worked his way around,and dealt with various mental health issues, and eventually became a part of the society of Jesus. We hold them in the affection of being called Jesuits.
Jesuits even back at their founding were all about connecting with contemporary issues that the church needed to help with. Whether it was arguing theology back in the day, or teaching here at SCU or even getting one of their members sent to Rome as the new Pope Francis. Jesuits have always found a way to be where people need them the most to help show the world how smart and dedicated serving others can be for Jesus’s sake.
However, where Romero was most important was in how he became a rallying point for the oppressed people of El Salvador. El Salvador was in a state of civil war at the time, with leftist gurrillas clashing with Right wing military totalitarians.What Romero dared to do is try to work for peace, and an end to the repressions of the government. He rallied his fellow priests, and tried to partner with peasant groups in order to get the poor, hungry forgotten of El Salvador what was due to them in Christ. He sought freedom from repression, safety from violence, peace between killers. And his popularity among the classes grew as he put out a call to El Salvador to come help.
And for his beliefs, he was killed for them. On this very day, Oscar Romero was saying Mass, and paying homage to a fallen martyr when soldiers came up and shot his heart, killing him. The day before, he’d commanded for the soldiers to stop the killings and repressions of their own people, and for daring to demand that the violence stop, so it was that which for all of romero’s pushing eventually got him killed. A martyr to the end.
Romero’s legacy was living out in his name the continued service to the destitute of El Salvador. And in the many different martyrs who came after him, such as the 4 american women who died helping each other, or the peasants killed in military actions trying to find gurillas like the whole town down to only a single woman surviving. All these people might not have made it all work if it hadn’t been for Romero trying to get them to organize and believe in the faith they all had inside of them.
Yet this then draws me back to the question I asked earlier in the blog: How are martyrs meant to be role models? They’re dead, so we can’t have them mentoring us. They might live in different contexts compared with anyone reading this, so we can’t directly emulate them in the exact same context. And so often, it’s too easy to consider them special, and not the same as us in terms of going out and being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. It’s too easy to try and distance us from the martyrs of Christ, because as much as we want to put on pretenses of belief, what is asked of us, “To carry your cross and follow me” is something we don’t want if we’re honest enough with ourselves.
And yet, the cross is precisely why we can never dismiss martyrs and how important they are for us. We can hide behind our lies, our work, our friends or our excuses, but the shadow of the cross and all those who stand beside it is precisely why martyrs are meant to be role models. Oscar Romero even in his situation never pegged himself as a subversive to the government per se, though he did admit what he was doing was a blow against a government not interested in truly helping its people. He stood for those who needed his help the most: The poor. And so, he too was challenged and threatened, but became a hero for the people who needed a hero. Romero was a challenger for the people who had no voice, and through his voice, they believed that he truly understood who they were. It wasn’t patronizing, but confirming. Not belittling, but affirming. Not coddling, but challenging, rising and growing the people he was meant to protect and serve.
And, just recently, the Vatican agreed with the people of El Salvador, and declared Oscar Romero a Martyr for the faith. For speaking truth on behalf of christ and the poor, Romero is due to be beautified later in the year as a martyr for the faith. The first step to becoming saint Oscar Romero. And saints are definitely our role models, because we who believe in them hold them to be the best of us, and some people to live up to and follow in their example.
So in this week before holy week, reflect on how your life can be given up for the one who was a martyr long before El Salvador, before Oscar Romero, before SCU. A martyr for hope and for others. Be ready to sacrifice for others, because it is the least of us who need us the most in Christ, and on this anniversary of the death of Romero, may we live in the light he cast on the world. May we live for the lives he touched, and may we live after the life he lead serving in God’s name. Amen.