Oscar Romero served as the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his death in 1980. Romero is considered a kind of patron saint of El Slavador, and I do not joke when I say there might be more pictures of Romero posted everywhere than there are of Jesus. This is a significant difference than when I was in El Salvador twenty-five years ago when the government harassed and silenced anyone associated with the controversial Bishop.
Standing up for the Poor
Romero served as a parish priest for decades in the poor rural areas of El Salvador. His selection as the archbishop was seen as a safe choice because he was not perceived as a strong supporter of Liberation Theology and its concern for the poor. Within months of his selection as the Archbishop, his good friend and fellow Priest, Father Grande, was assassinated by a right wing death squad while organizing self-reliance groups among the poor in the countryside. Romero revealed an activism not noted before as he spoke out against the injustices and oppression suffered by the poor.
He gave weekly sermons broadcast via radio that spoke to the persecution of the poor and the killing of Priests who served the poor. He advocated for the release of political prisoners and identification of those who had “disappeared”. He was highly critical of the United States government’s support of the Salvadoran government.
Church of the Poor
In March of 1980 while celebrating a Mass in a small chapel he was shot and killed by an unidentified assassin.
His funeral mass was attended by an estimated quarter of a million people. Romero has become a symbol of a church that seeks not only to serve the poor but identifies with their struggles and seeks their liberation and well-being. Romero believed in a Church of the Poor. He challenged Christians, rich and poor, to embrace the human progress that Christ sought not only in its spiritual and transcendental realm but also in the historical, bodily, dimension.
The question of what it means to be the Church of the poor is a difficult one for us living in the States. We are as far from poverty as one can imagine. So how are we to understand what it means to be that kind of church in Clive, Iowa. This is not easy to answer but a quote from Oscar Romero may be a starting point:
“The rich must be critical amid their own surroundings of affluence: why they are wealthy and why next door there are so many poor. A wealthy Christian will find there the beginning of conversion, in a personal questioning: Why am I rich and all around me so many that hunger?”