Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, in El Salvador, was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.
James Brockman, his biographer, reveals his spiritual development: his faith and practice only developed by learning about himself, through psychoanalysis and living, and by listening to and interacting with the poor. Romero had the courage to examine his life. In 1966, at the age of 54, he realised he was a perfectionist and an obsessive-compulsive personality type: that “subconsciously he had been transferring many feelings from his home life to his present relationships, and that explained his timidity and shyness with others, his brusqueness and coldness”.
According to the US Catholic:
“Romero was a surprise in history. The poor never expected him to take their side and the elites of church and state felt betrayed…. He was predictable, an orthodox, pious bookworm … [he] criticize[d] the progressive liberation theology clergy aligned with the impoverished farmers seeking land reform.”
But he was dramatically transformed when his priest Rutilio Grande was ambushed and killed along with two parishioners within three weeks of his election. Grande died because he defended the peasant’s rights to organise farm cooperatives. The night Romero drove out to view their bodies marked his change. The eyes of the peasants asked: Will you stand with us as Rutilio did?
The ascetic and timid Romero was changed that night. He was honest about himself, his failings, owning his fear of death, and wanted to identify with Jesus in his love for the poor.
Romero begged for international intervention. He was alone. The people were alone. In 1980, the war claimed the lives of 3,000 people per month, with bodies clogging the streams, and tortured bodies thrown in garbage dumps and the streets of the capitol weekly. Most Salvadoran bishops turned their backs on him, sending a secret document to Rome accusing him of being “politicised” and of seeking popularity.
Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24, 1980. Moments before a gunman shot him, reflecting on scripture, he said,
“One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risk of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero was faithful to the Passion of Jesus in his love of Jesus and his brave stand with the poor and against the government and military. The day before he was killed he preached a sermon on the radio calling on Salvadorian soldiers to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.
May we learn to express the Passion of Jesus in our own lives and community.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov