The martyrdom of Archbishop Romero

This week the Church remembered several martyrs — St. Blase on Tuesday (although of this week’s saints he is the one about whom we know the least, he is probably the most well-known, due to the blessing of throats attached to his feast day), St. Agatha on Thursday, and St. Paul Miki and his companions (the martyrs of Japan) on Friday. We would do well to ask their intercession this week for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering persecutions for the faith.

Jesus told us in Matthew’s Gospel (5:11-12), “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Our fellow Christians are blessed, Jesus promises us, but that does not take away the physical, emotional and Spiritual pain that they are suffering.

On Tuesday, while The Anchor was being finalized, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had declared the late Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr “killed, in hatred of the faith, March 24, 1980, in San Salvador.” Those who are declared martyrs by the pope do not need to perform a miracle after their deaths (to prove that they are in Heaven), so the Holy Father is free to have Archbishop Romero beatified at any time. We had an article in our January 23 edition interviewing area Catholics about their joy that Pope Francis had mentioned on his flight from the Philippines to Rome that Romero had died as a martyr.

On the plane the pope said, “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei (Latin for ‘in hatred of the faith’), whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbor. And this is a task for the theologians. They are studying it.”

Archbishop Romero, in his last homily in March 1980 (which is reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s last sermon in 1968, in that both of them spoke rather boldly right before they were killed), told his fellow Salvadorans, “Let no one be offended because we use the Divine Words read at our Mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people. Not to do so would be unChristian. Christ desires to unite Himself with humanity, so that the light He brings from God might become life for nations and individuals.”

As King spoke about seeing the “Promised Land” and the likelihood that he would not enter into it with his listeners (calling to mind Moses’ farewell address after having seen across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo), so Romero also was looking to a time long after his death. (As you can read on page 11, El Salvador no longer is challenged by civil war, but from incredibly fierce gang violence.)

Romero continued, “I know many are shocked by this preaching and want to accuse us of forsaking the Gospel for politics. But I reject this accusation. I am trying to bring to life the message of the Second Vatican Council and the meetings (of bishops of Latin American) at Medellin (Colombia) and Puebla (Mexico). The documents from these meetings should not just be studied theoretically. They should be brought to life and translated into the real struggle to preach the Gospel as it should be for our people. Each week I go about the country listening to the cries of the people, their pain from so much crime, and the ignominy of so much violence. Each week I ask the Lord to give me the right words to console, to denounce, to call for repentance. And even though I may be a voice crying in the desert, I know that the Church is making the effort to fulfill its mission.”

Romero then made a reference back to Moses’ day: “Every country lives its own ‘exodus’; today El Salvador is living its own exodus. Today we are passing to our liberation through a desert strewn with bodies and where anguish and pain are devastating us. Many suffer the temptation of those who walked with Moses and wanted to turn back and did not work together. It is the same old story. God, however, wants to save the people by making a new history.”

Romero’s words speak to us today and to Christians of any age: “The Church, the people of God in history, is not attached to any one social system, to any political organization, to any party. The Church does not identify herself with any of those forces because she is the eternal pilgrim of history and is indicating at every historical moment what reflects the Kingdom of God and what does not reflect the Kingdom of God. She is the servant of the Kingdom of God. The great task of Christians must be to absorb the Spirit of God’s Kingdom and, with souls filled with the Kingdom of God, to work on the projects of history.”

Jesus, at Mark 12:34, said to a scribe, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” after that scribe had affirmed Jesus’ proclamation of the Great Commandments (of love of God and love of neighbor). The scribe had said, “Well said, Teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than He.’ And ‘to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:32-33). Romero was trying to indicate to his listeners how to put those words into practice, living the Kingdom.

In the concrete situation that the archbishop was facing, he said in that last homily, “I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. The Church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to Heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.

“The Church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in the Holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity’s common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength.”

We thank God for the blessing of Archbishop Romero and ask God for the grace to imitate his desire to work for the Kingdom of God.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts