The Vision of Oscar Romero: His Ministry as Archbishop [Part 3]

oscar-romero-iconThroughout his short ministry as archbishop of El Salvador, Romero embodied a vision of the church that stood in uncompromising solidarity with those who were suffering the most – the campesinos. He expressed this vision succinctly in one of his homilies when he described the relationship between himself and another bishop who had publicly challenged his pastoral ministry by saying, “in what is substantial we are servants of this church, which does not want to betray either the gospel or the people [emphasis added].”[1] Romero’s allegiance was never divided between the gospel and the people; for Romero, there was no gospel apart from the good news proclaimed to a specific people in need of liberation.

On several occasions as archbishop, Romero refused to betray the suffering people of El Salvador. After the murder of Father Grande along with two church members, he called a meeting of the clergy to vote on a proposal to close the schools for three days and hold a single national Mass at the cathedral as a sign of church unity and protest against the persecution of the church in response to its ministry among the neglected campesinos. The vote passed and Romero followed through with this unprecedented display of protest even in the face of stark opposition from El Salvador’s nuncio, the powerful diplomatic ambassador of the pope who was well connected to the government and the military.[2] A few months later he vetoed the nuncio’s plans for a religious ceremony, which would be attended by government officials who continually refused Romero’s pleas for justice and meaningful dialogue, because it would be “an expression lacking in solidarity with the sufferings of this church and people.”[3] He cited the same concerns for solidarity when he refused the same nuncio’s invitation to a church-government papal “coronation” ceremony in honor John Paul I, which prompted the nuncio to begin working with the cardinal and the president for Romero’s removal.[4] In all of these instances, Romero boldly displayed his unwillingness jeopardize his pastoral relationship with the campesinos, in spite of extreme criticism from the government, the media, and members of the church hierarchy.

In addition to these somewhat private refusals to betray his people, Romero regularly voiced his unflinching solidarity with the suffering, persecuted clergy and campesinos through his weekly homilies, which were broadcast nationally over the radio. As the government and its paramilitary forces continued their practice of kidnapping and murdering anyone they suspected of “communist” activity, Romero shared in the grief of his people by announcing the names of those killed and “disappeared” in his homilies.[5] In addition to this, Romero called in lawyers to investigate every report of human rights abuse and transformed his office into an open house for the people to gather and share their reports of murder and kidnapping, as well to receive advice from Romero over a cup of tea.[6]

Romero’s courageous unmasking of lies and his prophetic denouncement of violence and injustice grew directly from his ministry among the people as their pastor.[7] Even while the conflict raged, Romero’s time was mostly consumed with pastoral work concerning the ministry of catechesis, word, and sacraments in his archdiocese.[8] This pastoral dedication was a consistent feature throughout Romero’s ministry; one that would transform him from a pious, conservative friend of the powerful into an unabashed voice for justice and peace on behalf of the suffering. In order to fulfill his overwhelming desire as a pastor “to be faithful to what God asks,” Romero was willing to adapt his vision of the church in order to become a source of hope to his suffering flock.[9] The conviction with which Romero practiced solidarity with the poor and oppressed is an essential aspect of his vision. With every decision he made as a church leader, he carefully guarded his ability to minister faithfully as a pastor among a suffering people and always let their voices speak louder than his own.

[1] James R. Brockman, S. J., Romero: A Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 96.

[2] Brockman, Romero, 12-13, 16.

[3] Ibid., 102.

[4] Ibid., 144.

[5] Ibid., 91,92.

[6] Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero, directed by Ann Carrigan and Juliet Weber (2011; Notre Dame, IN: Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, First Run Features, 2011), DVD.

[7] Brian J. Pierce, “Romero, Resistance, and Resurrection,” Living Pulpit 14, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 15.

[8] Brockman, Romero, 149-150.

[9] Brockman, “The Spiritual Journey of Oscar Romero,” 312.


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