Tag Archives: Archbishop Oscar Romero

Romero – thou shalt not kill

One of the most important homilies Romero ever preached was the one on the day before his martyrdom. They are prophetic words that were probably the tipping point for those who sought to silence his voice. His words was greeted with a thunderous applause in the Sacred Heart Basilica where he was preaching.

convento painting copy

They are words that all of us should take into account in a world best by calls for vengeance, for war, for violence against our enemies. They are no more than a concrete call to conscience which is based in the way of Christ who told us to love our enemies and in the example of the early Christians who proclaimed, “We must serve God rather than humans.”

Read, pray, and live these words of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyr of the Americas:

“I want to make a call, in a special way, to the men of the army and in particular to the bases of the Guardia Nacional, the police in their barracks.
“Brothers, you belong to our own people. You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says: ‘Do not kill!’ No solider is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin.
“The Church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of the dignity of the human person, cannot remain silent before so much abomination. We want the government seriously to consider that reforms mean nothing when they come bathed in so much blood. Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: ‘Stop the repression!’”

Romero and the idols

Idolatry is often associated in the popular Catholic imagination with worship of images of false gods. But in the twentieth century the Church began to speak more about both personal idols and social idols.

Romero spoke several times about idols – first of all about personal idols, the idols of self. For example, in his March 23, 1978, homily he said:

We must overturn so many idols,
the idol of self, first of all,
so that we can be humble,
and only from our humility
can learn to be redeemers,
can learn to work together
in the way the world really needs.
Liberation that raises a cry against others
is no true liberation.
Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence
and takes the lives of others
or abases the dignity of others
cannot be true liberty.
True liberty does violence to self
and, like Christ,
who disregarded that he was sovereign,
becomes a slave to serve others.

But Romero was not averse to identifying and denouncing the idols of society. In his January 7, 1979, homily he boldly stated:

That reign of God finds itself hindered, manacled, by many idolatrous misuses of money and power. Those false gods must be overthrown…. Today the idols are different. They are called money, they are called political interests, they are called national security. As idolatries, they are trying to displace God from his altar. The church declares that people can be happy only when, like the magi, they adore the one true God.

On the day before he was martyred, Romero referred to a hymn that had been written. It is the Gloria of the Misa Campesina Salvadoreña.

The last two verse boldly state the challenge of idolatry:

Now, Lord, you shall be glorified
as you were before, there on Mount Tabor,
when you see this people now transformed
there is life and liberty in El Salvador.

But the gods of power and money
are working against this transfiguration.
Therefore, now you, Lord, are the first
to raise your arm against the oppression.

Beloved Monseñor, give us the courage to raise our hearts and minds and live against the idolatries of our lives and of our world.

Romero and the wide Reign of God

Though Romero was educated in the pre-Vatican II church, he grew to have a grander vision of the workings of God in history than the narrow ecclesiology that branded non-Catholics as “separated brethren” or “sects.”

He connected with Protestants in El Salvador and he received a lot of support from Protestant churches throughout the world. Some attended his Sunday Masses and Romero often acknowledged their presence.

Though he was critical of violence and narrow ideological positioning, Romero was open to speaking with all, even the revolutionaries.


What he said in a December 3, 1978 homily provides the framework for this openness:

Everyone who struggles for justice,
everyone who makes just claims in unjust surroundings
is working for God’s reign,
even though not a Christian.
The church does not comprise all of God’s reign;
God’s reign goes beyond the church’s boundaries.
The church values everything that is in tune
with its struggle to set up God’s reign.
A church that tries only to keep itself
pure and uncontaminated
would not be a church of God’s service to people.
The authentic church is one that does not mind
conversing with prostitutes and publicans and sinners,
as Christ did –
and with Marxists and those of various political movements –
in order to bring them salvation’s true message

God works and the Reign of God is beyond the Catholic Church, as Vatican II also noted.

May Romero’s openness to the Reign of God fill today’s Church with an openness to God working in many ways and through many people.

Romero and Pope Paul VI

It is fitting that Monseñor Romero and Pope Paul VI are canonized together. One of my favorite images of Romeo is when he met with Pope Paul VI and presented him with a photo of the recently martyred Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande.


Pope Paul VI encouraged Romero to continue his work. Despite negative comments from Salvadoran elites and most of the bishops and despite the cool, at times harsh, reception that Romero received in some departments of the Vatican Pope Paul received him warmly.

Romero, in his diary, recalled what he heard from the Pope:

“I understand your difficult work. It is a work that cannot be understood, in which you need to have a lot of patience and courage. I know that not all think as you do: in the situation of your country this unanimity of thought. Nevertheless, proceed with courage, with patience, with strength, with hope.”

Pope Paul VI, who wrote of the new vision of evangelization linked with liberation in his 1975  letter Evangelii Nuntiandi, shared Romero’s vision.

In a homily shortly after returning from Rome, Romero said:

When Paul VI talked about having to renew the church, and that this was the goal of the Second Vatican Council, he explained very well that renewal does not mean accommodating to the modern ways of the world, which at times are unchristian. Renewal means making the church consistent with the seed that was planted. A tree, however much it grows, remains consistent with its seed. What is important to understand is that God’s word is a seed, and it cannot be altered. We would like a teaching more accommodated to our interests. We’d like a preaching that isn’t so bothersome, that doesn’t cause conflicts.

But when Christ planted the seed, he had conflicts. That seed is the word of the Just One, of the Holy One, of the one who knows what he wanted when he created humanity and nature; and so it guides us, but it collides with sin. It clashes with those who don’t want the seed to grow.

Saints Monseñor Romero and Pope Paul VI, pray for the church, that it may be a force for the real liberation of God’s people – from all that keeps us from living as members of the Reign of God.

Romero and the church of the poor

Monseñor Romero was a man of the church. His episcopal motto, taken from St. Ignatius Loyola, was “Sentir con the Iglesia” – “To be of one mind and heart with the church.”


But how that was worked out in his life is, I believe, part of the mystery of the conversions that led a humble man with a great love for the poor from his youth to become an outspoken advocate of the poor, “la voz de los sin voz” – “the voice of the voiceless.”

As archbishop he did not fail to speak against all that he perceived as sin and he suffered for that – even from his brother bishops who did not understand the political dimensions of the Gospel.

In his homily of April 16, 1978, he spoke forthrightly of what the church should avoid.

A church that doesn’t provoke any crises,
a gospel that doesn’t unsettle,
a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin,
a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin
of the society in which it is being proclaimed –

what gospel is that?
Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone,
that’s the way many would like preaching to be.
Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter
so as not to be harassed,
so as not to have conflicts and difficulties,
do not light up the world they live in.
They don’t have Peter’s courage, who told that crowd
where the bloodstained hands still were that had killed Christ:
“You killed him!”
Even though the charge could cost him his life as well, he made it.
The gospel is courageous;
it’s the good news
of him who came to take away the world’s sins.


Lord, make of us a courageous church, unafraid to speak the truth in love.




Romero and human life

In the midst of violence, repression, the killing of innocent people, including priests and catechists, Monseñor Romero affirmed the gift of life.


Less than two weeks before he was martyred, he reaffirmed this commitment in his March 16, 1980, homily:

Nothing is so important to the church as human life,
as the human person,
above all, the person of the poor and the oppressed,
who, besides being human beings,
are also divine beings,
since Jesus said that whatever is done to them
he takes as done to him.
That bloodshed, those deaths,
are beyond all politics.
They touch the very heart of God.

Do the cries of the poor touch our hearts?


Romero – prayer and the poor

Monseñor Romero was a man of prayer. It is said that when, as archbishop, he faced difficult decisions in the face of the violence and divisions in El Salvador, he could be found praying in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament.


But his was not a spiritualized prayer, but a prayer rooted in the reality of the people he served, fully aware of their sufferings and of the injustice of society.

About a year after being named Archbishop of San Salvador, he shared these thoughts in his homily of February 5, 1978:

The guarantee of one’s prayer
is not in saying a lot of words.
The guarantee of one’s petitions
is very easy to know
– How do I treat the poor? –
because that is where God is.
The degree to which you approach them,
and the love with which you approach them,
or the scorn with which you approach them
– that is how you approach your God.
What you do to them, you do to God.
The way you look at them
is the way you look at God.

And so I ask myself: How do I look at the look? How do I interact with them?


The photo is of the chapel in the Divina Providencia Hospital in San Salvador where Monseñor Romero lived and was martyred on March 24, 1980.


Romero – the seed that bears fruit

In ten days, Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero will be canonized in Rome. God willing, I will be there with my pastor to celebrate the holiness of a man who was the voice of those without a voice.


As a novena to prepare for this recognition of the church of the poor by the universal church. I will be offering quotations and occasional reflections. Today I offer words from a sermon of Monseñor Romero on the text of John’s Gospel, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit” (John 12: 23-26).

Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along, who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.
What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections — politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.
To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated and feel as their own the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives, because my Father will reward them.”
Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each of us Christ is saying:
If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.
Do not fear death threats; the Lord goes with you

This has been a challenge for me since I first read it over thirty years ago. I want it read at my funeral.

Photo of a photo in an exhibition in the Centro Romero of the UCA, the Jesuit university in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Other posts on Francis:
The Upside-Down world of St. Francis
Francis and encountering Jesus in silence


A martyr’s tribute to another martyr

Before the current wave of martyrs in the Middle East, most recently those killed in Egypt on Palm Sunday, there were a good number of martyrs in Algeria in the 1990s.

The most famous of these are the Trappists of Tibhirine who were kidnapped on March 27, 1996, and then killed. John Kiser wrote The Monks of Tibhirine; Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. The moving film Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving films I have ever see.

Their prior, Fr. Christian de Chergé, OCSO, wrote an incredible testament, available here in English and French.

But there were many others.

On May 8, 1994, two years before his martyrdom, Fr. Henri-Barthelemy Verges, Marist brother, and Sister Paule-Hélène Saint Raymund, Little Sister of the Assumption, were killed in Algiers, Algeria.

On July 5, 1994, Père Christian wrote this about Père Henri-Barthelemy:

“I was personally very close to Henri. His death seemed to be so natural, just part of a long life entirely given to the small, ordinary duties. He seemed to me to belong to the category that I call ‘martyrs of hope,’ those who are never spoken of because all their blood is poured out in patient endurance of day-to day life. I understand ‘monastic martyrdom’ in the same sense. It is this instinct that leads us not to change anything here at present, except for an ongoing effort at conversion. But there again, no change!”

Martyrdom is not always something extraordinary. It is often the closure on a life given over in love to the tasks of daily life.

This reminded me of what Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero wrote in his retreat notebook, in March 1980, shortly before his martyrdom,

“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”

What is important is the daily martyrdom, the giving over oneself to God and others. This is the witness – the martirio – of those who seek to follow the Cross of Christ to the Resurrection – a life of continual conversion

Transfiguration, Hiroshima, and Pope Paul VI

On a mountain in Galilee, Jesus let his disciples see the glory of God, his divinity, hidden beneath his humanity. And so we celebrate today the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The world hides the glory of God which is concealed at the depths of the creation. In fact, we distort the glory of God by the bombing of civilians, as at Hiroshima, what Pope Paul VI called “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

But God has a way of undermining our attempts to destroy creation.

God has a way of revealing the Glory of God hidden in Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, and in God’s creation.

God is the God who transfigures, who subtly reveals the Glory that God wishes for us.

St. Irenaeus said that “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said that “The Glory of God is the poor person fully alive.”

How will I make that glory known and loved today?

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. On this day in 1978 Blessed Pope Paul VI died.