Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, soon to be officially beatified as a saint, demonstrated with his life his calling to “see and hear his people’s suffering. His behavior was a full exercise of Christian charity.” Today our bishops are doing the same.
Romero was born on August 15, 1917. As Archbishop of San Salvador he was well accepted by the poor but detested and sentenced to death by the extreme right wing, because of his sermons in defense of those persecuted by the dictatorship there.
Following the dictates of Christ, he rejected that atrocious “clean-up operation”, that hunting down of innocents that dictators and tyrants engage in. True to his prophetic denunciations, he protected and hid the persecuted and comforted the tortured and dying at the risk of his own life. By his words and deeds we know him.
According to witnesses, on Sunday March 23, 1980, the El Salvador Cathedral was full of people. Holy Week was near, the week of passion. Monsignor Romero had been warned of the possibility that he could be killed, and he had answered: “A bishop may die, but the Church of God, that is the people, will never perish.” (Maria Lopez Vigil: Piezas para un retrato “Pieces for a portrait”)
Outside in the shadows, the same hooded figures now present in Nicaragua are lurking. The paramilitaries are patrolling the streets around the churches like scavengers. Everything is waiting for the finish.
Nonetheless, before he was assassinated Saint Romero of America was able to deliver one of the most moving sermons that has ever been pronounced in Latin America. That sermon speaks of the tyrants of the world; it can be taken to refer to El Salvador yesterday and Nicaragua today. To me, it’s the homily of a saint, so eternal and so much ours. At this moment, it unites the “vandals” [as the government calls those who protest] of Nicaragua in profound communion with our bishops, priests and the Apostolic Nuncio, all under assault by demented mobs, be it in the Basilica de San Sebastian in Diriamba or the Church of Santiago in Jinotepe.
These are the same mobs that burned the offices of Caritas in Sebaco, for the connotations of Christian charity and love of Christ that the word holds. To the tyrants, the word “charity” is terrorist. This is the persecuted church that Monsignor Silvio Baez is referring to these days.
Those who finance and encourage these mobs are certainly deserving of the exorcism they speak so much of, although, I feel that the accumulated evil of the Malevolent one and his Malevolent wife is so great that all the holy water in the world would evaporate without effect, and all prayers to Saint Miguel Archangel would fall mute.
Nicaragua was there, accompanying Romero in that Cathedral of El Salvador, and especially in the spirit of the homily that he pronounced. And we were closer yet, when one day after that homily, Monday, March 24, 1980, the death squads murdered him at age 62.
He was celebrating mass in a hospital where the nuns cared for cancer patients. Front and center at the altar, he was offering the bread and wine to those present, when the shot was fired right to his heart, a carefully aimed shot, just as they murder here. He fell at the feet of the crucifix and when they turned him over, a thread of blood emanated from his mouth and kept streaming; so much so, that it’s joined today with the blood of our now nearly 400 murdered.
It’s said that Pope Francis will officialize the canonization of Saint Romero of America either this year in October, or perhaps in January, 2019. But on that Sunday, March 23, 1980, upon finalizing his sermon, “the most thunderous and prolonged applause that had ever been heard in the San Salvador Cathedral” rang out. It’s this applause that we will give to our youth when the tyrants depart from Nicaragua. A thunderous applause in homage to our fallen.
Meanwhile, the contents of that sermon, from the soul of San Romero of America, which would cost him his life the next day, conserves its complete relevance:
“I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church preaches liberation. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out stained with blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”