I would like to thank Father Ray Sanchez for inviting me to write a few articles to the Passionist blog Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. I feel honored in being called to humbly contribute with some concepts and ideas in the hope to promote the objective of the Passionist principles.
This article refers to the life of Mons. Romero, archbishop of El Salvador in the 70s, whose life and apostolate are crucial in understanding the pursuance of social justice and the practice of the Christian life.
Archbishop Monsignor Romero
In 1977, Monsignor Romero was appointed archbishop of San Salvador; his appointment was met with surprise, dismay and even enthusiasm among groups. This appointment was welcomed in government circles but was met with disappointment by radical priests (especially those openly aligning with Marxism) who feared that with his conservative reputation he would put the brakes on their liberation theology commitment to the poor.
Witness of Horror:
As archbishop, he witnessed numerous violations of human rights and began a ministry speaking out on behalf of the poor and victims of the country’s civil war. Chosen to be archbishop for his conservatism, once in office his conscience led him to embrace a non-violent form of liberation theology, putting him in the line of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Like them, he was martyred for his non-violent advocacy.
On March 12, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend Rutilio Grande, who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero who later stated “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”.
Romero urged the government of Arturo Armando Molina to investigate the crime, but they ignored his calls. The press, which was censored, also remained silent.
A new tension was noted with the closure of some schools and the absence of Catholic priests in official acts. In his response to this murder, he revealed a radicalism that had not been evident before. He began to speak out against the poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture taking place in the country.
He began to be noticed internationally, with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In February 1980, he was given an honorary doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven. On his visit to Europe to receive this honor, he met Pope John Paul II and expressed his concerns at what was happening in his country. Romero argued that it was problematic to support the government in El Salvador because it legitimized the terror and assassinations.
In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses from paramilitary right-wing groups and from the government. Romero spoke out against U.S. military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased military aid would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights”. Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become “another Nicaragua”, ignored Romero’s pleas.
A Life for Social Justice
Romero was shot on 24 March 1980 while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called “La Divina Providencia”, one day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic Human Rights As soon as he finished his sermon, Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment he was shot.
Importance of Archbishop Romero’s Example
The life and example of Monsignor Romero has validity in this times of trouble around the world, his example is an inspiration for those pursuing social justice and hope for those who are suffering inequality. Monsignor Romero’s legacy cannot be seen as a local and isolated story in a lost Central American country.
Monsignor Romero’s message is about denouncing injustice and fighting for Human Rights. These are current issues all around the world and as Christians we have the obligation to follow the love for truth and justice as Monsignor Romero did, because in loving truth and justice we love our neighbour as Jesus thought us.