Last Sunday was a very special and proud day for me. A man I have long admired and looked up to, Oscar Romero, was canonised a saint of the Church in Rome. He was a truly extraordinary man of faith and I believe that his life ought to be a constant inspiration to people of faith everywhere in the struggle for justice and the work of peace.
Appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 at a time of great political turbulence and ruthless oppression in El Salvador, Romero was initially seen as a “safe pair of hands” who would steer the Church clear of trouble. Barely a month later however, Rutilio Grande, a fellow Jesuit priest and a personal friend of Romero, was brutally assassinated and his death was to have a profound impact of Romero. It awakened deep within Romero an indomitable sense of solidarity with the oppressed and a vision of faith centred on the call to justice. He began to courageously denounce social injustices and became a fearless advocate on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. He said at the time: “When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which that cry arises.” In his weekly radio sermons he exposed human rights abuse listing disappearances, incidents of torture, murder and much more, insisting all the while that it was his faith that compelled him to do so: “There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image. We know that every effort to improve society, above all a society that is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.” Such outspoken condemnation of the authorities was unlikely to go unpunished and Romero paid the ultimate price for standing with and for his oppressed people when he was assassinated while celebrating Mass on the 24th October 1980. His Funeral Mass in San Salvador was attended by over 250,000 mourners from all over the world. Twenty five years later I had the great privilege of being amongst a crowd of over 50,000 people that gathered in San Salvador to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his assassination and to say a prayer at his tomb – a moment I count among my most treasured memories.
For anyone interested in learning more about this incredible man of faith and justice I invite you to join me this Tuesday night, 23rd October 2018, in the Gill Room in Monkstown to watch the movie ‘Romero’ starring the late Raul Julia. The movie will begin at 7.30 p.m. and runs for one hour and forty minutes. All are welcome. Parking is available in the yard of Monkstown Church. Come and join me in celebrating an extraordinary life. Fr Seán