by Ellen Teague
Independent Catholic News
The beautiful church of St Martin in the Fields in Central London is often called “the church with the open door” because it welcomes people from all walks of life. It believes that people who are homeless, refugees, struggling and feeling on the edge are at the centre of God’s love and the centre of the church. It was a fitting venue then for a memorial talk ‘Remembering Romero’ (audio here) delivered there last Sunday evening by Fr Thomas Greenan, a priest of Edinburgh diocese now living and working in the remote Petén area of Guatemala. Before that he spent many years as a missionary priest in El Salvador, and is an admirer of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated while celebrating mass in March 1980. He wrote his masters and doctorate studies on the life and work of Romero.
Fr Thomas, who had also spoken in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Liverpool, described Romero as “a prophet possessed by the Spirit of God” whose homilies rallied a population suffering persecution and murder by death squads. A recording of a section of the homily Romero gave the day before his killing was played in St. Martin’s and Fr Thomas translated: “Brothers, they are our own people! You are killing your own brothers and sisters, peasant folk, rural workers….And faced with an order to kill, that a human being gives, there ought to prevail the Law of God which states ‘Thou shalt not kill’” The words were interspersed by the clapping of a congregation who found him to be an inspirational leader, who took the gospels and Catholic Social Teaching seriously and who put his own life at risk to defend them. Fr Thomas noted, sadly, that assassination was the second principal cause of death in El Salvador; the first was diarrhoea.
In February of 1979 in Puebla, Mexico, Romero met the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Fr Thomas reported that Boff remembered that encounter. Romero had asked him for some theological ideas on the theme of life. Boff recalled: “I remember very well how he spoke in a soft, gentle voice saying – ‘In my country they kill with cruelty. The poor are murdered; simple rural folk are tortured from day to day with the most extreme violence. We need to protect the minimum, which is God’s greatest gift - Life. Father Boff, help us to develop a theology of life.” Boff remembered that, after a pause, Romero said that, “we need to give our lives in order to protect the lives of others: this was the path of the Crucified One”.
Fr Thomas highlighted the sad stories of ordinary Salvadoreans who found comfort in Romero’s championing of their rights, through the life of a man he knew called Rodolfo. This man was a peasant, forced into exile by the persecution unleashed throughout the decades of the seventies and eighties. He hid in the hills before crossing into neighbouring Honduras and taking refuge in a refugee camp. In 1989, under the protection of the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations, he was among hundreds of these refugees who returned to El Salvador, and his village was a place which Fr Thomas visited and served. Rodolfo told the priest he was very proud that he had shaken hands with Romero on two occasions.
Unfortunately, soon after his return, Rodolfo was killed by a booby trap which exploded as he attempted to repair tiles on his roof.
Julian Filochowski, chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, urged the congregation to visit its website regularly, become supporters of the Trust and to purchase some of the books about Romero advertised there.
The full text of Fr Thomas Greenan’s talk will be available at: http://www.romerotrust.org.uk/ after the final lecture at St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds, on Friday 2 July at 7.30pm.
BACKGROUND ON FR. TOMMY GREENAN
A priest of Edinburgh diocese, Fr Tommy lives and works in the remote Petén area of Guatemala. In Guatemala, Fr. Tommy covers a broad mission area and collaborates with three religious sisters who work in health education and catechetics. Also he collaborates with the Human Rights Office with special attention to migrants from the area, who are looking for work in Mexico and the U.S.A.
Before coming to Guatemala, he spent many years as a missionary priest in El Salvador. He was there during Hurricane Mitch and told his experience in graphic detail to The Tablet. He has researched and written a major study which compares and contrasts the lives of Saint John Chrysostom in the 4th Century and Archbishop Romero in our own times. And he is also the author of El pensamiento teológico pastoral en la homilías de Mons. Romero published by Tutela Legal del Arzobispado de San Salvador, 1998.