“Each one of you has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is someone who has been baptized…Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.”
“I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.”
“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
These are the words of Oscar Romero. He was a Roman Catholic pastor in El Salvador, promoted to the country’s Archbishop in 1977. With a reputation as non-political, he was considered a safe choice for keeping the church from entering the fray of growing unrest toward an increasingly violent and repressive military regime. Less than a month after his appointment, a dear friend of his who worked closely with poor communities was assassinated. This became a turning point for Romero who began speaking out against violence and torture directed at the poor of his country. During his Sunday sermons, broadcast nationwide, he would name those who had disappeared or been murdered. He preached passionately about God’s love for the poor, calling on the state to stop the repression, and the United States to stop supplying the regime with weapons. A listener survey determined that his radio sermons were regularly heard by 73% of the rural population and 37% of those in urban areas. On March 23, 1980, he called on Salvadoran soldiers, themselves Christians, to obey God’s law rather than the government’s orders. Romero was assassinated the day after while leading Mass at a hospital chapel.
Three days ago Pope Francis canonized Romero as a saint.
Official Roman Catholic sainthood might not mean a lot to us Protestants. We emphasize the priesthood of all believers. But it is a gift to us to have Oscar Romero named as a leader and companion along this difficult path of the Jesus way. It elevates a courageous and compassionate voice and spirit we need to hear. Romero spoke out of deep conviction, in the spirit of Christ, and was met with the same fate as Jesus. As he once said: “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.”
This icon of Oscar Romero is one of the images I have hanging over my office desk.