Today is the commemoration of Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, and the 37th anniversary of his martyrdom. August 15 of this year will be the centenary of his birth.
Romero is still remembered as a fearless champion of social justice in El Salvador, who denounced the ruthless oppression of the poor in his country in the chaotic years leading up to its long civil war. He stood with the poor, with forgotten and suffering people, and gave them a voice and an awareness of their own dignity as human beings.
But Romero was always more than a "civil rights advocate." He placed the defense of the dignity of every human person and the denunciation of those who perpetrated injustice squarely within the context of an integral witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He envisaged the human search for freedom and a more just and loving social order as included within the content of a human existence destined for a transcendent fulfillment in relation to God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, in eternal glory.
Romero preached that all the good that humans accomplish in union with Christ in this present world -- including all the efforts to build up society through politics, education, and cultural and social commitments -- would be transfigured, perfected, and fulfilled in eternity. In this he applied the Church's perennial witness to the gospel, specified by social teachings that are drawn from the gospel and applied to shed light on the concrete exigencies of solidarity and the great commandment to "love your neighbor."
This love is directed also to justice and human flourishing in the goods of the temporal world, where we are called to live in communion with all our brothers and sisters and "work out our salvation" together with them. Thus we obtain "the unfading crown of glory."
Blessed Romero, faithful to Jesus and the Church, called on his flock to convert from sin and to serve the Lord not simply with their lips or with formalistic gestures but also by recognizing Him especially in those who are in need. Romero was not afraid to indicate these needs and call his people to fulfill concrete responsibilities toward one another and the poor, and to refrain from violence.
Sadly, too many of those who held power in El Salvador preferred the way of violence. Romero shed his blood, and thousands of others would follow in a twelve year long civil war. Today there is a fragile political peace, but new kinds of social problems plague El Salvador and many other parts of Central America, new kinds of violence, division, and struggles for power.
As Christians, however, we know that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. I am certain that Blessed Oscar Romero's sacrifice will bear fruit among his people and has already begun something new for all of us on this American continent.
"May this Body immolated and this Blood sacrificed for mankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and our blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ -- not for self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our people."
~The final words of the homily of Archbishop Oscar Romero, moments before he was shot dead during the offertory of the Mass, March 24, 1980.