Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Yesterday, I wrote about Martin Luther King, a Black Baptist minister and champion of civil rights. Today I want to write about another 20th century Christian who stood up against injustice in his society – a Roman Catholic priest called Oscar Romero.
Romero was born in El Salvador in 1917, so he was a little older than King, who was born in 1929. He trained to be a priest and was ordained in 1942. He was appointed a bishop in 1974 and then Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. At this stage in his life, Romero’s theology was quite conservative, and the powers that be, in the Church and in the State, doubtless thought that Romero would prove to a quiet and uncontroversial archbishop. They were wrong.
At this time, El Salvador was governed by a dictator, also called Romero, and there were serious human rights abuses, including the murder of one of the archbishop’s friends, Fr. Rutilio Grande. What was the Church to do? Keep its head down, and leave politics to the politicians? Or was it to oppose the State, encouraging the use of violence if necessary? Archbishop Romero, and the majority of the parish clergy, felt that it was their moral duty to oppose the State; most of the other bishops thought otherwise.
Generally, Archbishop Romero advocated the use of peaceful means of opposition. However, in one of his pastoral letters, the Archbishop endorsed the use of proportionate counter-violence. He also agreed to conduct a public funeral for a priest who was widely acknowledged to have been a terrorist. Some felt that the Archbishop had gone too far; but others felt that his words and actions were entirely justified in the circumstances.
In due course, the Dictatorship was overthrown. However, there was then a tussle for power between different political factions. Archbishop Romero tried to negotiate between the three main factions, but on 24th March 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass at the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador.
Archbishop Romero is an example of a Christian who had the courage to stand up to a brutal Dictatorship. He felt that he had to get involved in politics in order to protect the people of his country, especially the most vulnerable. Most of his fellow bishops thought that he went too far. What do you think?