Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Oscar Romero - Martyr of Latin America

By Fr. Jose Oscar Beozzo with introduction by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardoboff.com (em português)
February 9, 2015


Fr. Jose Oscar Beozzo is known as one of the most serious Brazilian historians and theologians. Here he draws the profile of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Dom Oscar Arnulfo Romero, killed as he was raising the consecrated chalice. Initially he was considered a conservative bishop, but he was moved by witnessing the indiscriminate killings by the forces of repression of his country of the people, the peasants and members of the church base communities, and even nuns and priests like Fr. Rutilio Grande. He became a great defender of human rights and the rights of the poor which, according to the Bible, are God-given rights. As the latter have no one to defend them, God Himself takes them under His protection and stands at their side.

I met Dom Romero personally at the time of the big meeting of the Latin American bishops (CELAM) in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. I remember that, calling me aside, almost pleading, he asked me: "Father Boff, help us make a theology of life since in my country death is absolutely commonplace; every day more and more innocent people are being killed." He succumbed to that banality of death. He died for the cause of justice, one of the greater goods of the Kingdom of God. He didn't die because of local politics. Rather, because of his courage to denounce on his Sunday radio program the torturers and assassins of so many poor people and peasants.

Pope Francis coming from the cultural melting pot of this Church that is committed to the invisible and the victims of repressive violence, understood the meaning of his life. He opened the door to his beatification and later canonization. Dom Romero is an example of deep personal holiness, political holiness (which seeks the good of all, especially the underprivileged), of a pastor who had the courage to give his life for his persecuted brothers and sisters.

Leonardo Boff

On Tuesday February 3rd, Pope Francis declared that Mons. Oscar Romero, an archbishop from El Salvador, suffered martyrdom because of  "hatred of the faith" and that he was not killed simply for political reasons.

The pope's words, almost 35 years after the archbishop was shot to death on March 24, 1980, while he was celebrating Mass in the chapel of Divina Providencia Hospital  in San Salvador, open the way for his rapid beatification and canonization.

The process had been blocked in Rome by those who labeled his death  the result of his political choices and not because of his prophetic gospel witness in favor of the least and the poor. The pope already took a first step in that direction when shortly after his election, on April 21, 2013, he ordered the reopening of his process in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

For hundreds of thousands of Christian communities on the continent, Oscar Romero was considered a saint from the day of his martyrdom and invoked as Saint Romero of Latin America in deep and rightful recognition by the "sensus fidelium" of his saintliness and the meaning of his death -- his striving for peace, his struggle against poverty and injustice and above all, his stated opposition to the infamous "low intensity" war. The war, in tiny El Salvador which, at that time, had slightly more than 5 million inhabitants, left more than 70,000 dead and 1.5 million refugees, mostly exiled in the United States.

Mercedes Sosa, in the well-known Latin American song "Solo le pido a Dios" ["All I ask of God"] sings with passion:

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que la guerra no me sea indiferente
Es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to war / It's a big monster and tramples hard / On all the poor innocence of the people]

And it continues in other stanzas:

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que el dolor no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to pain]

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que lo injusto no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to injustice]

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que el futuro no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to injustice]

Romero was not indifferent to the pain of poor people, or to war, or to injustice, or to the lack of hope and a future that had befallen his people.

The poet bishop of São Felix do Araguaia, Dom Pedro Casaldaliga, the day after the assassination of Oscar Romero, promptly associated his death with martyrdom and the blood shed by Christ himself on the cross, ending by invoking him without any hesitation whatsoever:

"San Romero de América, pastor y mártir nuestro". ["Saint Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr."]

I've reproduced below the relevant page of his diary, "En Rebelde Fidelidad" ["In rebellious fidelity"], from March 1980:

"Day 25

Yesterday, Monseñor Oscar Romero, the good shepherd of El Salvador, died, murdered. While he was celebrating the Eucharist. His blood has been mixed forever with the glorious blood of Jesus and with the blood, still profaned, of so many Salvadorans, so many Latin Americans.

Romero, flower of a peace that seems impossible in this suffering Central America.

The impression one has, with no possible doubt, is that the Empire killed him. His death was a killing for hire, a currency, a dollar. His voice was too powerful and free and it had to be silenced. He knew it and was prepared for that sacrifice.

It was on the eve of the Annunciation. The Angel of the Lord came early to announce, with this death, the coming of a season of life for El Salvador, for Central America, for the whole continent.

Saint Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr.

A clear lesson for all pastors...

It is not possible for the God of the poor not to collect this oblation."

Other faiths haven't waited for this tardy Roman recognition to include Oscar Romero in their own liturgical calendars as a martyr, an example of life and holiness, and an inspiration for their faithful. Thus, the Anglican Church in England enrolled Romero as a martyr in the calendar of its "Common Worship." The same thing happened in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

When Benedict XVI, as the first pope to do so, entered the imposing west portal of Westminster Abbey in London on September 17th, 2010, he had to pass under the statue of Oscar Romero sculpted next to the ones of the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and other 20th century martyrs represented there (photo above).

Renowned artists and popular artisans were quick to portray Romero as a saint. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1980), when painting the Latin American Way of the Cross (photo above) and the large panel of the "new heaven and the new earth" for the Lenten Campaign of the German Church, portrayed the Risen Christ walking ahead of the multitude of those who had washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb, led by Oscar Romero and Enrique Angelelli, Bishop martyr of La Rioja in Argentina, followed by the procession of lay people, priests and women religious who have shed their blood for the faith and for justice in Latin America, in the years of military dictatorship rule.

In 1986, liberation artist Cerezo Barredo, when painting the panel behind the altar of the Igreja dos Mártires da Caminhada in Ribeirão Cascalheira, the place of martyrdom of Fr. Penido Burnier, SJ, put him next to Romero and the Risen One and with other farm laborers killed by the latifundio, their wives who were tortured by the police, and many other anonymous martyrs of the Latin American Church. In another panel on Romero, Cerezo reproduces the prophetic words of the Archbishop shortly before his assassination: "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."

Claudio Pastro, who has been illustrating the Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida, patroness of Brazil, the seat of the 5th Latin American Bishops Conference in 2007, included in the blue and white tile panel that covers the chancel of the main entrance of the church, next to two martyrs of yesteryear, those of today, including the indigenous Márçal Guarani, Archbishop Romero and Sr. Dorothy Stang, an American missionary murdered February 12, 2005 in the Brazilian Amazon. Sister Dorothy was killed by gunmen for defending the small farmers of a sustainable agriculture project from the ravages of the big timber companies. The latter, under the complacent gaze if not the conniving of the authorities, fell trees to feed the lucrative trade of illegal timber exports to Europe.

The artists and popular feeling and piety were early to recognize the new forms of sainthood that go from the fight for the lives of the little ones who have suffered injustice, from denouncing the profits of capitalism and empires, to uncompromising advocacy for water, for the earth, for forests as common goods necessary for life and not just "commodities" mostly at the service of profit.

When the young bishop of Ivrea, Betazzi, then auxiliary bishop of Bologna, intervened at Vatican II, with healthy applause from the Council hall, to request the immediate canonization of John XXIII by the Council Fathers, he was wanting to consecrate an entire program, a project and a dream of a new church and a new humanity. In this sense, Cardinal Lercaro commented that this proposal for the immediate canonization of John XXIII by the Council represented the reception of conciliar decisions in the life of the Church. The proclamation of John XXIII's saintliness was not just "exemplary holiness (like other saints), but a programmatic holiness of a new era of the Church, personified in the holy pastor, doctor and prophet recognized as its forerunner."

Romero's holiness is also a programmatic holiness that goes back to the gospel preferential option for the poor, to a faith active in the world and to prophecy as the unwavering task of pastors and of all the baptized in a nominally Christian continent, who coexist in apparent indifference with the secular inequality and injustice that have marked our societies from colonial times to today.

Fr. José Oscar Beozzo


[1] En rebelde fidelidad: Diario de Pedro Casaldaliga - 1977/1983. Barcelona: Desclée de Brouwer, p. 18.

[2] http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/imagenes/MinoRomero2006port.jpg

[3] Cited by G. Alberigo, Breve História do Concílio Vaticano II. Aparecida: Editora Santuário, 2006, p. 150.

No comments:

Post a Comment