“If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” –Mon. Oscar Romero
This prophecy of Oscar Romero came true. He was killed for speaking out on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. He did rise again in his people.
On five different occasions, I brought a group of high school juniors to El Salvador for a ten-day justice education trip. We sat at the feet of Salvadoran people and learned about Romero’s death, the twelve-year civil war that followed, and the role the United States played in that war. We stood on the alter, right where Romero was shot. We went to his tomb to pay tribute, and we ran our fingertips over his name etched in stone alongside all the others killed during the war. We acknowledged his death, but we were also surrounded by his spirit everywhere we went. I have never felt anything quite like it. In the rural villages they sing his praises. In the city his face is painted in mural after mural. People want to share what they know about him. He lives on in the continued justice work being done, in the hope of the people. He is their champion, their saint, and in the heartbeat of the people, his spirit is alive and well.
Romero’s story is one that gives me so much hope. He was an intellectual, a well trained lover of liturgy. The higher ups thought he would be moldable and obedient to them. They were wrong. Instead, Romero answered the call to go and see his people. What he saw converted his heart. He did not tell the poor people of El Salvador that they should live gracefully in poverty and love the Lord. Instead, he accused the unjust political and economic systems for their suffering and demanded change. He refused the large dwelling for the Archbishop in the capital and lived in a humble, small room. He preached truth to power, and received death threats immediately. He became a pastor of the people.
On May 23rd, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified. This is a move that also gives me hope. El Salvador’s history is full of repressed truth, secret buried bodies, and the wealthy taking charge of the country’s narrative. Pope Francis is allowing the truth to breathe, to have its turn. Romero was killed for his beautiful faith and his advocacy for the poor.
Mon. Oscar Romero reminded us that violence and repression is never the answer. He warned us that a system where a few hold too much power and have too many resources while others want is not sustainable. It seems that now is the perfect time to celebrate the life and teachings of Romero so that we too may live into a world that is more equitable and free.