This week in El Salvador President Obama will visit the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, after whom our church is named. It is said that Romero, who had been elected in the expectation that he would be the sort of bishop who would not make waves, had something of a conversion experience over the body of Fr. Rutilio Grande, the first Salvadoran priest to be martyred. Some people believe that when he realized that his friend had given his life for the poor of El Salvador, he became aware that he, too, had to stand with the poor. After that, his voice grew stronger and stronger. He made many enemies as he fearlessly began to walk with oppressed people and speak in their defense. He said things like, “The church that does not unite itself to the poor in order to denounce from the place of the poor the injustice committed against them is not truly the church of Jesus Christ.” The whole country listened to his sermons. On Sunday morning you could walk down the street and hear his voice coming out of every house, as he spoke about the truth of the situation in El Salvador. Finally on March 23, 1980, he spoke a direct challenge to the soldiers who were torturing and killing people. He told them that God’s law outweighed orders from their superiors. “In the name of God,” he told them, “I beg you – I ORDER you – STOP THE OPPRESSION.”
The next day an assassin shot him through the heart as he stood at the altar at the Divine Providence Hospital offering Mass.
Before he died, Monseñor Romero said, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” And it turned out he was right. His memory is alive and life-giving. There are statues, memorials and murals in his memory all over the country. His name is like a code word for caring about the poor.
In 2005 I visited his little house on the grounds of the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador. It is full of relics of his life – all his little possessions, lovingly preserved and on display. Most of them seemed strange to me, kind of foreign. But then something stopped me in my tracks. It was a pair of clip-on sunglasses, very ordinary. I could have bought them at the grocery store here in Rochester. I looked at those sunglasses and felt the immediacy, the reality and closeness of his life and work. His work is not foreign. His concerns are still concerns today. The poor still suffer, in El Salvador and all over the world. That horrible dichotomy between the people who have much materially and have the power to shape the world their way, and the voiceless, powerless poor – that’s still ours, today. What are we going to do about it?
The message of liberation theology is that such questions are appropriate for the church, are in fact crucial to the life of the church. We cannot claim to be following Jesus, and ignore the desperate cries of the people, the poor of Latin America, of Africa and India and our own cities. We need to ask hard questions about economic justice. We need to be willing to suffer, ourselves, to let go of the excess we take for granted. And first of all, we need to leave our comfort zones and walk with people who are different from us, and be in relationship, and learn, and see our sisters and brothers for the people that they are – God’s own beloved children, just like us.
Here at St Romero’s we hope to do that in our small way by bringing Mass in Spanish to people who are not attending church because they are afraid of deportation. You are welcome to join us in that project, which will begin later in the spring.
My prayer for President Obama as he visits the tomb of Monseñor Romero this week is that he, too, will have a conversion experience, and be on fire for the poor. May we as a nation become aware of our neighbors to the South as our neighbors, as people with the same desires we have for life, for education and health care and houses, for hope --- and not as the possessors of resources to take for ourselves, or as a threat to our own well-being. May our relationship change, for better and for good.
I am so grateful for the example of Monseñor Romero. A newspaper headline called him a “human rights activist” – which is kind of like calling Gandhi a community organizer. He was a priest, a bishop, a shepherd, a martyr and a prophet. Above all, he was a pastor who walked with his people, who gave them his voice, his energy, his life. Saint Romero, pray for us.
Blessings and love to all, Chava
We hope you will join us this Thursday, March 24, as we celebrate the memory of Oscar Romero on the 31st anniversary of his assassination. Please come at 5:30 for pot luck (bring a dish to pass) and at 7 pm for Mass.
Friday night our Lenten Fish Fries for Joe continue, from 6 to 7:30 pm. $8 per dinner, no one turned away. We’ve been having a lot of fun at these and hope you will join us.
The links below are to articles about two of my sister priests, Theresa Novak Chabot in New Hampshire, and Gabriella Velardi Ward in New York City. Take a look and see some of the wonderful things that are happening! http://www.concordmonitor.com
“The Church cannot remain silent before injustice. To remain silent is to be an accomplice.”
Monseñor Oscar Romero
Have a blessed week, and come visit us some Sunday!
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Church in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14603