TEN REASONS WHY ARCHBISHOP ROMERO IS IMPORTANT, 25 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH
By Carlos X. Colorado, moderator, email@example.com. This article was originally published on February 17, 2005 in the San Romero Yahoo Discussion Group.
As we prepare to commemorate the 25th year anniversary of Archbishop
Romero's death, let's take a moment to indulge the cynic (maybe within our own selves) who might ask,
"Why should the life (or death) of the shortest-serving archbishop of one of the smallest countries in the
world a quarter century ago matter to us, at all?" Why should we take time from our busy lives to reflect
on a footnote to somebody else's past? After all, we have complicated and brain-taxing issues to confront
in our own day and age, including terrorism, the war in Iraq, North Korea and Iraq, tsunamis in Asia, genocide
in the Sudan, saving Social Security ... and that's just what's on page 1!
The answer -- the reason why I think the mythos of Romero endures,
and should -- can be digested into ten easy components of his legacy that are palpable and urgent to the world. Admittedly, "10" is a somewhat artificial breakdown, but I believe that the following is a fair analysis.
1. HE TOLD THE MARGINALIZED, "YOU ARE IMPORTANT"
When I was in San Salvador on March 24, 2000, for the 20th anniversary celebration, walking down the Alameda Franklin Delano Roosevelt from Savior of the
World Plaza to the Metropolitan
Cathedral in a candlelight procession, I thought of it. A reporter who was roving through the crowd had asked me why I cared enough about this man to have flown down from Los Angeles to be there, and I told him that, in my childhood, Archbishop Romero was the first authority figure to address me (indirectly) to say: "YOU matter; YOU
are important." I said this matter of factly, and it took Ann Butwell of the Ecumenical Program In Central America & Mexico, who was walking next to me, to underline it for me, before I realized the import of my own statement. It encapsulates Romero's love for the poor and to the marginalized exactly.
Here was a clergyman who had reached the pinnacle of his career. He
had reached the Archbishop's Palace and was, as far as anyone could
tell, headed straight for a cardinal's hat. If he had dedicated his energies to
diplomats and presidents, to wine and cheese affairs in the house of the Papal Nuncio,
no one would have batted an eye or thought any less of him. Yet, he was choosing to spend his time with
the mothers of the disappeared, and consoling persecuted peasants.
That message -- Love -- might not get you very far in this day and
age. But, for an idealistic little boy growing up in the outskirts
of San Salvador ... it was priceless.
2. HE WAS A CHRISTIAN MARTYR
Even though the Church has not completed its glacial machinations
about the question of Romero's martyrdom, which is muddied by
external political considerations and Vatican palace intrigue, the Christian world sees Romero as one of the premier martyrs of the 20th century, and the delay in his beatification only underscores his martyr's suffering. Cardinal Martini, the would-be pope from Milan, was asked to name the three most important cardinals, and he included Romero because, he reasoned, his blood had earned him the scarlet
colors of a cardinal in excess. Cardinal Rodriguez (of Honduras) has called him "the most beloved martyr" of the 20th Century, and the Anglican Church gave him a central position in the western facade of Westminster Abbey. The Pope himself has repeatedly said, "He was a martyr. He really was a martyr."
Tertullian famously declared, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed
of the church," and Romero's blood is shoring up the Church where sex
abuse scandals is eating away at its lacy garments. From a theological standpoint, martyrs are given such force that they are even invoked to scare away the Devil in the Roman Ritual (for exorcisms). Martyrs echo and renew the sacrifice of Christ and, for that reason, Romero's martyrdom is a revelation to our world of modernity.
3. HE WAS A PROPHET
In his famous poem (after which this group is named), the recently
retired Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga says of Archbishop Romero: "You knew
how to drink from the double chalice of the Altar and of the People, With one single hand, consecrated to service." (San Romero de America, 1980.) To my mind, poet Casaldaliga encapsulates in that one phrase, more than I can say about Archbishop Romero's prophetic
ministry in an entire book, but I will try to add just a little hue.
To me, prophetic preaching could be defined as preaching which converts the ordinary time of our daily, mundane lives, to Gospel time. The afore-mentioned Archbishop Rodriguez of Honduras also says that Romero made his church an "Easter Church," and this is part of the prophetic process to which I am referring. Romero took his time, the events, the history unfolding around him, and he used it to preach the same message that is revealed in the Bible. Just like the parables and the psalms, the day's headlines became the medium by which he preached the Gospel, leaving us mesmerized with the grandiose feeling that God walked right along with us, in our valleys, in our troughs, and in our bitter places. Now, that is a prophetic ministry if there ever was one! Romero's awakening the moral righteousness of the Old Testament to assess the moral worth of our modern world was a much needed challenge to the sleepy, dormant role to which religion had been relegated theretofore.
4. HIS "CONVERSION" MAKES HIM A COMPELLING HERO
Romero's biography presents a puzzle to people of con-science, the essence of which is,"Did Romero un-dergo a Paul on the road to Damascus style conversion, & if so, what is its meaning for us?" If we have seen the Raul Julia film, "Romero," or been exposed to other mainstream portrayals of Romero's life, we know the story.
Romero was 60 when he became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. He
had been a conservative, bookish cleric up to that point, and he was chosen, in fact, to quash a Church style emerging in Latin America at the time that made the hierarchy of the Church squirm. It was a time of military dictatorships in Latin America, & of social movements
striving to topple these tyrants, with brutal oppression & civil wars as the reaction.
Whether or not the "conversion" model of Romero's life fits with the salient facts, it makes a compelling narrative, which forces us to answer: what would we do? What would we do if it paid to go with the flow, and it could mean your death to do the right thing? It is the stuff that myths are made of, and it is at the heart of this hero's tale.
5. HE GAVE HOPE TO HIS PEOPLE
Apart and in addition to saying "you are important" and "you matter," Archbishop Romero was a leader in Salvadoran life who rose to the occasion and the
exigencies of his time. As a matter of fact, Archbishop Romero was THE ONLY leader in El Salvador's history who has ever done so. People outside El
Salvador don't appreciate this, but Archbishop Romero first appeared on the national radar for his powerful eulogies. He had to give quite a few. Six of his own
priests were killed during his archbishopric, and he set the tone for their funeral masses after the assassination of Fr. Rutilio Grande a month into his term as
archbishop. Romero cancelled all the masses in the archdiocese, and led one single mass which everyone followed
on the radio.
Thereafter, Romero's sermon broadcasts became a powerful, transforming phenomenon. People say that you could walk across San
Salvador to the Cathedral, and Romero's voice would always be within
earshot, from radios in people's homes and in grocery store windows, and taxis, buses, and even people sitting outside with little transistor radios listening to his message. Romero was a voice of consolation, a voice of denunciation, "a voice that cried out in the wilderness" and "the voice of the voiceless." By showing that ministry is a profession of Hope, Archbishop Romero became a model for other pastors.
6. HIS ASSASSINATION TAINTED THE DICTATORSHIP
When King Henry II ordered the assassination of St. Thomas Becket in
1171, his infamous words ("Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?") came back to haunt him, stripped him of his crown, and led to political reforms that culminated in the Magna Carta. Likewise, the Romero assassination shocked the conscience of the world and revealed that the lambs had fangs: that the governments of Central American were vicious killers who did not hesitate to kill a 62 year-
old bishop in a chapel in a cancer hospital presiding over the Eucharist.
"Old men forget," wrote Shakespeare. "Yet all shall be forgot,"
especially by revisionists who would try to recast history in rosier colors, but they will have a hard time explaining away or rationalizing the dead archbishop being carried out by nuns; the
casket fired on at the funeral; the bullet hole through the Archbishop's portrait nine years later at the scene of the massacre at the Jesuit university. Like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand which triggered World War I, the Romero assassination was the last straw for a government used to slaughtering its own people. U.N. Truth Commissions, OAS investigations, and now a U.S. federal
court have all identified the blood on the hands of the killers.
7. HE PREACHED A TORRENT OF THE GOSPEL TRUTH
Once again, Bishop Casaldaliga has said it, again, in San Salvador in
March 2000. Casaldaliga said that Archbishop Romero announced "the
word of God in a raging torrent" ("a chorro fuerte"). That is absolutely so, and if you ever doubt it, then take a look at the texts of Romero's speeches (http://espanol.groups.yahoo.com/group/sanromero/) on one of the links in our group's page.
You don't even need to understand Spanish to see the sheer volume there. He was an indefatigable preacher. Sometimes, he would run out of steam on one particular strand of subject matter, but you could never tell until you went back and listened closely, because he would plod on, taking up another topic.
Romero was a dynamic orator, speaking about urgent themes with urgent
and colorful language, speaking powerfully, from the heart, and with
great eloquence and clarity. His outspokenness was a firebrand that
streaked the firmament of an increasingly noisy world to focus world
attention on an overlooked and neglected corner of the globe, "whose
laments rose to heaven each day more tumultuously."
8. HE ENERGIZED ECUMENISM AND SOLIDARITY
In order to focus world attention on persecutions and oppression,
Oscar Romero invited religious figures from abroad to come and visit
El Salvador, engaging and inspiring young missionaries like Jean
Donovan and countless others to come to El Salvador and serve. Archbishop Romero even opened the podium to protestant ministers (a leap of faith, given his stern previous outlook on the subject), paving the way to the broad ranging community of conscience and
9. HE ROSE IN THE SALVADORAN PEOPLE
Archbishop Romero said, "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people." It is hard to talk about the insignificance of a long-dead bishop if he is not
really dead. A tribute song by
Yolocamba Yta questions, 'If you are dead, why haven't they buried you? If you are dead, why are you screaming in my ear?' Travel around El Salvador and Romero's image is ubiquitous. Travel around the world and the countless institutions and groups bearing his name proclaim his relevance.
10. HE APPEALS TO US TO HUMANIZE GLOBALIZATION
Finally, even though the conflict that caused Romero to rise to challenge the state of the world he knew is gone, we are faced with a landscape that continues to
call for Romero's message of solidarity and conscience. The globalization of markets, Bishop Gregorio Rosa of San Salvador likes to say, calls for the
globalization of hope,
the globalization of love, and the globalization of solidarity.
Whether we are talking about third world debt, enforcing humane labor standards, or the old challenge of simply eradicating hunger and poverty, Archbishop Romero's appeal to each of us is even more urgent today than it was when he was here. It is more urgent because he isn't here to sound the bear the burden, and now we have to do it in his memory.
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