I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
Today, the Church commemorates one of the people I most admire, Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, Martyr, (1917 – 1980). Romero’s sacrifice of self has had a great influence on my ministry.
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born in 1917 in Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador, near the border with Honduras. Romero was a carpenter’s apprentice during his youth and worked in a gold mine to help support his family. He entered seminary while still very young and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1942.
Romero spent several years serving as a parish pastor and working with various apostolic groups. He helped introduce Alcoholics Anonymous in El Salvador. Eventually, he was appointed rector of the interdiocesan seminary in San Salvador, and remained in that post for 23 years.
He was consecrated bishop in 1970 and served as auxiliary bishop of San Salvador until 1974, when he became bishop of Santiago de María, a poor, rural diocese.
In 1977, Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador. Initially a political conservative, the murder of a priest-friend, Rutilio Grande, inspired him to become an advocate for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. He fought against the human rights violations of the Revolutionary Government Junta and he eventually became a target of the government.
Father Jon Sobrino, one of the most prophetic and influential theologians in the church today, recalls his first encounter with Romero in March of 1977, the same day of the murder of Father Rutilio:
After Mass, Archbishop Romero asked us priests and sisters to remain in the church. Some of the campesinos stayed too, and naturally we made no discrimination. We held a planning session right then and there, in the late hours of the night, without waiting for the next day or a night’s rest. Archbishop Romero was visibly agitated. He seemed to be laboring under the responsibility of having to do something and not knowing exactly what to do. After all, the problem facing him was unheard of, and the question he asked us was elementary. What should we and could we do, as a church, about Rutilio’s murder?
Agitated and perturbed, he was nevertheless ready to do whatever would be necessary, and I could see this. He must have been afraid, however. The hour had come in which he would have to face up to the powerful – the oligarchy and the government. I shall never forget how totally sincere he was in asking for our help – how his words came from the heart. An archbishop was asking us to help him – persons whom a few weeks before he had regarded as suspect, as Marxist!
I believe that the murder of Rutilio Grande was the occasion of the conversion of Archbishop Romero – as well as being for him the source of light and courage to follow in his new paths…Rutilio had been a problem for Archbishop Romero, then. In fact he was an enigma. Here was a virtuous, zealous, deeply believing priest. Yet this admirable priest’s approach to pastoral ministry was one that, at least in Archbishop Romero’s eyes, was simply incorrect and mistaken. It was this enigma, I think, that was solved the day Rutilio died…If Rutilio had died as Jesus had died, if he had shown that greatest of all love, the love required to lay down one’s very life for others – was this not because his life and mission had been like the life and mission of Jesus?…It was not Rutilio who ought to have changed, but himself, Óscar Romero.Robert LaSalle-Klein, ed. “My First Encounter with Archbishop Romero,” Jon Sobrino, Spiritual Writings (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2018) p. 61-64
On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was celebrating a mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. As he was about to elevate the bread and the wine during communion, he was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet, shot through the heart.
Minutes earlier he had said these words:
“We know that every effort to better a society, especially one that is so enmeshed in injustice and in sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God desires, that God demands of us.… I beg you all, dear brothers and sisters, let us look at these matters at this moment in our history with this hope, with this spirit of giving, of sacrifice, and let us do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding… all those longings for justice, peace and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope.”This is the homily Óscar Romero was delivering when he was killed. | America Magazine
Please remember the people of El Salvador today and keep them in your prayers. Many of them have fled there to escape the poverty, the evil, and the violence that still rages there today and seek asylum at our southern border. Despite all the political claims to the contrary, all they yearn for is a better life for themselves and their families.
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