Martyrs for the faith that does justice

As reported in the blog Super Martiriotoday’s edition of Avvenire reports that the theological commission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints voted unanimously to affirm that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was a martyr for the faith.

This is a major step toward Romero’s beatification since a person can be beatified without a miracle if he or she is recognized as a martyr for the faith.

Romero was killed on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in the hospital for poor cancer patients where he lived.

The altar where Romero was martyred

The altar where Romero was martyred

The difficulty up to this point has been the question whether Romero was killed for the faith or for some other reason.

Generally a person is recognized as a martyr if his or her death is seen as an act done because of hatred for the faith – odium fidei.

With this recognition of Romero’s death as a martyrdom, it seems to me that the Vatican is recognizing that being killed while speaking up for justice and the poor is being killed because of hatred for the faith.

Justice is not something separate from faith in martyrs like Romero. His faith in God and his love for God’s poor, which he manifested from his early days as a priest, moved him, when he became archbishop of San Salvador, to speak up for their cause, to cry out for justice.

The day before he was killed, he spoke these prophetic words at the end of his Sunday homily:

I would like to appeal in a special way to the army’s enlisted men and in particular to the ranks of the Guardia Nacional and the police — those n the barracks. Brothers, you are part of your own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man gave you, God’s law must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill.! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin.
The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination.
We want the government to understand seriously that reforms are worth nothing if they are stained with so much blood.
In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you, in the name of God: stop the repression.

In these words we can see how Romero did not see a breach between faith and justice. For him, faith meant advocating justice, especially for the poor.

Interestingly, today the Russian Orthodox Church also honors a bishop who spoke up against injustice.

St. Philip of Moscow, a monk who was named bishop of Moscow in the days of Czar Ivan the Terrible, did not shrink from speaking out forcefully.

During a liturgy in the cathedral with Ivan the Terrible present, he denounced the Czar for a massacre that he had just ordered.

At this altar we are offering a pure and bloodless sacrifice for men’s salvation. Outside this holy temple the blood of innocent Christians is being shed. God rejects him who does not love his neighbor. I have to tell you this though I die for it.

He was subsequently arrested and murdered in prison on December 23, 1569 – another martyr for the faith that does justice.

Recalling these and many other martyrs, we are reminded that faith and justice cannot be separated and that sometimes God calls us to speak forcefully and directly in the face of injustice.

I pray that I may have the courage of St. Philip of Moscow and San Romero of the Americas.


The quote from Romero is taken from James Brockman’s Romero: A Life, published by Orbis Books.
The quote from St. Philip of Moscow is taken from Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, published by Crossroad Publishing Company.


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