Óscar Romero: a guiding light
Archbishop Óscar Romero paid with his life for bravely defending the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador. However, his legacy reaches far wider than Central America
Romero’s three years as Archbishop were delivered in a culture of fear with civil war seemingly inevitable. The courage and faith displayed by Romero never faltered.
Romero brought great hope and love to his followers in the poorest communities across El Salvador. His sermons did not merely call for loving your neighbour or the need for the solidarity, they brought to the fore the injustices which were the hallmark of the conflict in Central America during the 1970s and 80s.
His weekly homilies delivered hope through news about the communities, but they also highlighted the injustices and named those committing them. Those close to Romero realised that he may be a target for violence, urging him to take a bodyguard. Romero would only say:
“Why should the shepherd have protection when his sheep are still prey to wolves?”
Following his assassination during mass on March 24th 1980, the civil war took a tight grip on El Salvador. It led to an eventual 70,000 deaths.
Archbishop Romero understood that nothing changes without striking at the heart of an issue. He knew that the poorest communities could only see lasting change if the root causes of injustice and poverty were dealt with. His courageous and tireless support for the option for the poor has continued to inspire the work of SCIAF and Caritas Internationalis to this day.
Romero was once asked to explain what the option for the poor meant:
“I offer you this by way of example. A building is on fire and you’re watching it burn, standing and wondering if everyone is safe. Then someone tells you that your mother and your sister are inside that building. Your attitude changes completely. You’re frantic; your mother and sister are burning and you’d do anything to rescue them even at the cost of getting charred. That’s what it means to be truly committed. If we look at poverty from the outside, as if we’re looking at a fire, that’s not to opt for the poor, no matter how concerned we may be. We should get inside as if our own mother and sister were burning. Indeed it’s Christ who is there, hungry and suffering.”
Romero taught us that there is a role for all of us in facing injustice and trying to make a change for a better future:
“We cannot do everything, and there is sense of liberation in recognising this. But what we can do, let us do it, and do it really well.”
The spirit of Archbishop Óscar Romero lives on today. Every time we stand up against injustice, reach out to our neighbours or show courage in the face of adversity, we follow the beautiful example of a truly inspiring leader.
Reflect on the life and work of Archbishop Romero using the prayer below, especially written for the 30th anniversary of his death by CAFOD