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Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors

The Courage of Blessed Oscar Romero

                August 15 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero. Offering Mass in his honor, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said, “One hundred years after his birth, Blessed Oscar Romero still inspires us for his humility and courage – for his love for the poor and his witness of solidarity and service to others, even to the point of laying down his life.”

                Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador in the late 1970s at the outset of the Salvadoran Civil War. On March 12, 1977, less than a month after his appointment as Archbishop, Father Rutilio Grande, S.J., a close friend of Romero’s, was assassinated. Father Grande was targeted because of the work he was doing to organize poor people into self-reliant groups.

In the aftermath of this tragedy and in the face of growing persecution of the Church and the poor of El Salvador, Romero realized that he had to become more vocal. He began to broadcast weekly sermons on the radio in which he informed the public of incidents such as kidnappings, tortures, and murders. These broadcasts became a primary source of information for people throughout the country. The corrupt government, as well as violent revolutionaries, began to see Romero as a threat.  

The courage of Blessed Oscar Romero during the early days of the Salvadoran Civil War was rooted in his faith in Christ and fidelity to the Church. Throughout his life he consistently found strength in his vocation to the priesthood. He performed regular penances, engaged in contemplative prayer, guarded his chastity, and sought God in his interactions with others. He took his episcopal motto, “to be of one mind with the Church,” from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and he once said, “Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God.”

Romero understood that speaking the truth about injustice in his country would make him a target for assassins in the same way Father Grande was targeted, yet he continued to speak out and be a voice for the voiceless. He once said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”

On March 24, 1980, a car pulled up in front of a chapel where Romero was saying Mass at a spiritual recollection. A gunman stepped out of the car, walked to the doorway of the chapel and fired a shot just after Romero finished his sermon. The shot struck him in the heart, and he fell to the altar floor fatally wounded. 

Six days after his death, 250,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects at his funeral Mass. Yet Romero’s enemies would not relent. Smoke bombs exploded in the streets and shots were fired at the crowd from surrounding buildings, leaving many people injured and close to 50 dead. As the violence persisted, Romero’s body was buried in a crypt beneath the altar of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, and people continued to line up to pay him homage.

El Salvador suffered from the ravages of civil war for more than a decade after Romero’s death, yet he inspired countless people to reject the false power of violence and live in the light of Christ. His life story teaches us that true courage is rooted in love for others and fidelity to God. We should pray for the intercession of this holy martyr so that we can find the courage to follow in his footsteps and stand for justice and truth in our world today.

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING THE COURAGE WITHIN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org