One of the saddest gaffes in Pope John Paul ll’s papacy was his abysmal treatment of the saint of Americas. Seeing Romero’s priesthood through the eyes of the wealthy he challenged and who used that old hoary chestnut “Marxist” in describing Romero, JP ll bought the spurious charge and actually humiliated Romero when he came to Rome. Ah, well we all make mistakes.The polish pope was no exception. Labelling the lover of the poor a marxist was atonal music to his Polish background.
Here’s Sr. Joan Chittester’s take on Romero:
A church that does not unite itself to the poor…
is not truly the Church of Jesus Christ.
Archbishop and Martyr of El Salvador,
murdered March 24, 1980
There was no doubt that Oscar Romero was a good man, a caring priest, and an upstanding bishop. He decried evil and did charity. But though Romero was a pastor indeed, he was definitely not a prophet. To Romero, the church was to transcend the world, to define its values, but never, ever to concern itself with its affairs. When he became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, he was the comfort of a conservative episcopacy and the darling of a rich people’s government perhaps, but he was anything but the hope of the poor. Yet three years later, he was assassinated on their behalf. What happened? What does such a turn of events say to the rest of us?
No one knows exactly what changed Romero. No one knows if it was immediate or long in coming. Was it the accumulation of violence over the years that had finally reached a saturation point in him? Was it the sight at last of the body of a friend lying on the garbage heap of bodies that had become such a common sight in El Salvador that moved him? Was it the blinding grace of a genuinely new vision that made him see again what he had seen before but see it differently? Or perhaps it was the very values that had always driven him come together in one decisive moment that impelled him to change: the power of all those years of prayer, the futility of all those years of temporizing in the name of spirituality, the impact of all those years of poverty, the emptiness of all those words about the nature of the church and the meaning of the Gospel—lived until this moment in him almost exclusively as intellectual concepts? Whatever it was, he knew it now and there was no stopping him.
Oscar Romero became a light to the nations, a man on fire, a prophet’s prophet.
In the end he paid the consequence for saying the truth in the light. The church of privilege, his brother bishops, ignored him as many do to this day, in fact, and reported him to Rome for three straight apostolic visitations. This was the blow that hurt him most, he once told friends in tears. The rich waged million-dollar ad campaigns against him in hope of precipitating his mental breakdown. The government taunted him and threatened him and hounded him and ringed him round with violence till on March 24, 1980, they killed him, too. But the people took heart and found hope in a church for whom the Beatitudes were real.
Oscar Romero is a frightening figure if for no other reason than that he shows us to ourselves. The problem is that there is an Oscar Romero lurking in all of us docile, trusting, and obedient people. He teaches us that we too may someday have to change, not because we do not believe in the teaching of the church and the state, but precisely because we do, and they are not living up to it.
Indeed, Romero was a loyalist who became a voice of truth to the system he dearly wanted to serve. He was a pastor who discovered that binding wounds is no substitute for eliminating them. He was a Christian who discovered that the Gospel supersedes the church.
–from A Passion for Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis Books)