by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Rome 14 October 2018 — Archbishop Óscar Romero and six others were officially recognised as saints by the Church. Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980 while he was celebrating Mass with the people. The bullet was fired by a sniper who was allegedly linked to government forces. At the Mass for his canonisation Pope Francis wore the blood-soaked cincture that Romero was wearing to celebrate Mass on the day he was killed.

Romero captures the hearts and imaginations of many, especially in his home country El Salvador. He has become a prophetic voice calling for justice for the poor. Speaking out against poverty, social injustice and the brutalities that government forces committed against their own people.

Refusing to be silenced he used his influence and position to be “a voice for the voiceless” and a “journalist for the poor”. This did not win him friends among rich influential Catholics of El Salvador or even with his brother bishops who wanted to oust him for being too radical.

Before he was appointed it was thought that he would be a safe choice to make archbishop and wouldn’t be one to ruffle military-run El Salvador. No one anticipated that he would step out as he did. He had always toed the party line. So what happened?

Certain experiences in his life resulted in an inner conversion of heart.

He spent time in rural El Salvador where he experienced first-hand the sufferings of the poor. Conversations with labourers helped him to understand their struggles. He was deeply disturbed and his eyes were opened to the injustices that he had previously not been willing to see. He became aware of the impact of the oppressive regime on the people.

His close friend Rutilio Grande, an El Salvadoran Jesuit priest, was murdered by the Salvadoran regime for his activism and assistance of the poor in various ways, including workers’ rights.

When Romero saw the lifeless body of his friend riddled with bullets, he experienced a significant moment in his conversion. “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’” Romero became an outspoken advocate for justice, preaching courageously in his weekly homilies broadcast over the radio. He would reveal murders, disappearances, and incidences of torture, naming and shaming the perpetrators in the process and preaching.

Romero is a martyr and a prophet. He gave his life for his faith. He was killed because he stood with his people. He spoke out strongly against the injustices around him calling citizens to a conversion of heart and life. “Hear the truth when it is spoken to you. Discern the signs of the times and speak truth — to power, to the people, and to the Church.”

How do we listen for the signs of the times in our own context: our society, our church and our country? How, even in small ways, in our homes and places of work are we called to be prophetic? Can Óscar Romero’s courage and willingness to respond to what he came to see as “not of God” inspire us to use our voices in the service of justice?

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