Cross-posted on the Ministry with the Poor Blog.
May this immolated body and this blood
sacrificed for all nourish us so that we
may offer our body and our blood
as Christ did, and thus bring
justice and peace
to our people. Let us join together,
then, in the faith and hope of this intimate moment of prayer…
(Last words of Oscar Romero, March 24, 1980
Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings,
These were the last words spoken by Archbishop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980. He died while celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at a small hospital chapel in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. He was gunned down as he held up the chalice to consecrate the communion wine.
Over the thirty-plus years that have followed, Romero has become a legendary figure: a champion of the poor, a voice for peace, justice, and nonviolence, a martyr for his faith, and a transformative presence in the Catholic Church and in El Salvador In fact, Salvadorans are pressing Pope Francis to beatify Romero, the first step toward sainthood in the Catholic Church.
Romero was born on August 15, 1917 in Ciudad Barrios in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel. He entered the minor seminary at the age of thirteen, and then began his journey towards ordained ministry. Over time he worked his way through the Catholic hierarchy in El Salvador serving in a variety of roles. He was regarded as conventional and reserved, within the customary bounds of church tradition and practice, at a time when the Catholic Church in El Salvador was divided over a brutal civil war that pitted rich and powerful established interests, including the government and the Catholic hierarchy, against poor people, rebels and their religious allies fighting for economic justice.
On February 23, 1977, Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. His appointment was not celebrated by those clergy who had aligned themselves with the revolutionary forces fighting with of the poor. One of those radicalized clergy, a Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, was a close personal friend of Romero’s.
Romero could neither understand nor condone how his clergy friend could have aligned himself with the guerrilla groups in his pursuit of justice for the poor. But then, on March 12, 1977, just a few weeks after Romero was appointed Bishop, Fr. Rutilio was assassinated. To Romero’s dismay, there was no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Rutilio’s death had a profound impact on Romero’s vocation, faith and worldview. It was a turning point in Romero’s journey of faith and ministry. Sometime later, he said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”
Throughout the next three years of his life and ministry, Romero became increasingly engaged in the struggles of the poor, living and working among them and allowing for their stories and struggles to become one with his own. He lived a simple life, in a small house near the campus of the hospital in whose chapel he was assassinated. That he celebrated his final Mass in a hospital chapel rather than a cathedral speaks volumes of his living in communion with the most vulnerable in Salvadoran society.
In 2010, I was privileged to travel to El Salvador with a group from DePaul University. While on the trip, we visited a number of sites that were significant during El Salvador’s civil war, including a number of sites related to Romero’s life and martyrdom. While I was in the chapel where he was assassinated, I was struck by the powerful imagery and symbolism of his final act – consecrating the communion wine. The blood of Christ, shed for all suddenly became profoundly incarnate before my very eyes.
Good Friday is upon us, and as my Lenten journey comes to a close and I turn toward Easter Sunday, I cannot help but reflect on Romero’s walk with the poor, a personal conversion that led to him to the cross.
What moves me most about Romero is that his witness to the injustices, oppression, marginalization, and violence inflicted upon the poor of El Salvador opened his eyes and heart. In this process of conversion, he allowed himself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit working in and through the poor. In his walk with the poor he found the courage to stand with them—to the point of death-- and, like Jesus, boldly speak and embody the biblical message of liberation of the poor and oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18, Luke 6:20)
Two weeks before he died Romero said: “I have been frequently threatened with death. I should say to you that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection: if I die, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”
As we journey with Christ to the cross, are we willing to stand with and be transformed by the poor? As Romero demonstrated in his life and ministry, it is in walking with the poor that we become emboldened and empowered to take up the cross and follow Jesus in working to bring about peace and justice, nourished by Christ’s sacrifice.
For more information about Archbishop Oscar Romero see the 1989 biographical film Romero, the book Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Dennis, Golden, and Wright, 2000), and many other books and resources.
Kara Crawford is a United Methodist Mission Intern. She is currently serving part-time at New Day UMC, a new church start in the Bronx, NY, and part-time at the General Boardof Global Ministries in support of the Ministry with the Poor Area of Focus of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of DePaulUniversity in Chicago, IL, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Prior to her current assignments, she served in Bogotá, Colombia with the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación doing workshops in human rights and communications with groups of women and children. A member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and a lifelong United Methodist, Kara is passionate about engaging The UMC in conversations around what it truly means for us as a church to live out Micah 6:8: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”