I just finished reading Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Orbis) by Marie Dennis, Renny Golden, and Scott Wright, a short biography about someone too few in North America really know.
Romero was the archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to 1980, and was killed in a hospital chapel during mass just before breaking the bread and sharing the wine. He was assassinated for opposing unspeakable government brutality against El Salvador’s poor during the country’s civil war. He never advocated violence, and refused to demonize his opponents; he even proactively forgave his assassins.
In this book, the authors tell the story of how this reserved, quiet, respectful man became archbishop, how his words and actions became bolder along the way, and how he lives on in the hearts of the Salvadoran people.
He has become a bit of a hero among Catholics across Latin America, but I think he has much to teach all of us, Catholic and Protestant, Latin American or otherwise.
Two or three times over the years I’ve read through a collection of his sayings and prayers called The Violence of Love (available as a free ebook here). One passage in particular has really stood out to me, and I think its applicability for largely comfortable and consumeristic church-goers (which is all too many of us, all too often, if we’re honest) will be clear:
God wants to save us in a people. He does not want to save us in isolation. And so today’s church more than ever is accentuating the idea of being a people.
The church therefore experiences conflicts, because it does not want a mass, it wants a people. A mass is a heap of persons, the drowsier the better, the more compliant the better.
The church rejects communism’s slander that it is the opium of the people. It has no intention of being the people’s opium. Those that create drowsy masses are others.
The church wants to rouse men and women to the true meaning of being a people. What is a people? A people is a community of persons where all cooperate for the common good. (January 15, 1978)
Of course, there is a definite individual aspect to salvation, and before we can be reconciled to each other we must first be reconciled to God. But it seems to me that many of us who are highly concerned with being saved seldom consider what we’re saved into and what we’re saved for. I’m grateful for clues to these questions in Oscar Romero’s life and words.
A brief online biography of Oscar Romero is available here.
[About the photo: A tribute to Oscar Romero at Eliana's, a Salvadoran restaurant in our neighborhood in Phoenix where Katie and I had lunch yesterday]