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Celebrating the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero

The Gospel Choir Mass at St Francis Xavier’s Church in Gardiner Street on Sunday 15 February celebrated the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Pope Francis recently approved a decree relating to the Salvadoran Archbishop which declares him to be a martyr. This paves the way for Romero’s beatification, which is expected to take place in El Salvador. Archbishop Romero was martyred in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital. The document declaring his martyrdom specifies that Romero had been killed out of “hatred for his faith” rather than assassinated for political reasons.

In his homily the celebrant of the Mass, Fr Michael O’Sullivan SJ outlined how Archbishop Romero saw the struggle for justice in his country as a struggle against forces that were not just political and economic, but a struggle against the evil forces of sin. He said that Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom is closely linked to that of Jesuit, Rutilio Grande, who was killed in 1977, along with two travelling companions Manuel and Nelson, while on the journey from Aquilares to El Paisnal to say evening Mass. “Grande was murdered because his faith had inspired him to become a great champion of the rural poor in his own land. Manuel and Nelson were assassinated because they were witnesses, nobodies for their killers, and in the way.” After Grande’s death Archbishop Romero became a good friend of Jon Sobrino, the Jesuit known for his contributions to liberation theology. Sobrino had escaped death in November 1989 when the six members of his Jesuit community were dragged from their beds and assassinated by members of the army, along with Elba Julia and her daughter, Celina, who were staying with the community because they feared for their lives after their home had been attacked by gunfire. Among the Jesuits that were murdered was Amando Lopez who had completed theology studies at Milltown Institute and was ordained in the chapel there; and Ignacio Ellacuría, the head of the University, who had also completed his Jesuit training in Dublin. In a Mass in the university chapel for Romero after he was martyred, Ellacuría said, “In Archbishop Romero, God has passed through El Salvador.”

Fr Michael referred to a number of quotes of Archbishop Romero. Romero sometimes said that, “a Church which does not suffer persecution, but in fact enjoys the privileges and the support of the world, is a Church which should be afraid, because it is not the true Church of Jesus Christ”, while on 24 July 1979 he said: “It would be sad that in a country in which there are so many horrible assassinations there were no priests counted among the victims.” Fr Michael also described how Romero, on the day before he was killed, ordered the soldiers in the name of God to stop obeying the orders of sin and stop the repression. “After that appeal he seemed at peace”. He then went for a meal with a family who were friends of his but wept openly conscious his hour was near. “He remembered his best friends and spoke about the gifts God had given each of them”. In the closing remarks Fr Michael  prayed, “May the martyrdom of Oscar Romero inspire us to deepen our intimacy with God and to commit ourselves even more firmly to God’s dream of a world of beauty, truth, goodness, and love! Amen! Alleluia!”

Photo: stevemonty / Flickr (CC)