Today is the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot dead in the middle of Mass by a death squad marksman on the evening of Monday March 24th 1980.
It brought to a close three tumultuous years as archbishop of San Salvador where he defended the poor and denounced the grotesque violations of human rights suffered by his people at the hands of the military - and offered pastoral support to the victims.
Through those three years Cardinal Basil Hume, with wonderful collegial solidarity, followed the dramas of Romero's ministry. When the archbishop was under attack, he provided tangible moral support in a series of letters strongly endorsing Romero's teaching and pastoral commitment. They were published and broadcast in El Salvador and provided crucial backing for the beleaguered Romero.
Soon after the assassination, at a Memorial Service in Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Hume offered his own tribute to Archbishop Romero. 40 Years on, here it is once more.
"A week ago, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, was assassinated as he stood at the altar preparing for the Offertory of the Mass he was celebrating. It was the day that the new Archbishop of Canterbury was to be enthroned in the Cathedral where our own St Thomas Becket met his martyr's death because he opposed the unjust demands of a misguided king. The parallel does not need to be emphasised.
Archbishop Romero was killed as he was doing for his people what every priest and bishop does daily, offering for them and with them the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offering it in the name of Christ, the eternal High Priest. He was, like his Master on Calvary, at once both priest and victim. He had just finished preaching on St John's Gospel, taking as his text the words: 'Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.' Prophetic words, surely, since his sacrifice will not fail, in God's Providence, to encourage others to offer themselves for service and for sacrifice.
.......The significant fact is that he died violently in the struggle that has wracked El Salvador. He had realised that his witness put him in danger, but he never flinched. With serene bravery he remained in every circumstance the voice of Christian compassion for the poor and the opponent of unjust violence from any quarter.
It would seem that Archbishop Romero's sermon the previous Sunday provoked his assassination. He had told members of the armed forces that they should disobey borders if told to fire on unarmed civilians. He was consistent to the end. As always he pointed to the moral law, to a higher good. Civil authority does not enjoy unrestricted power. There are human rights it must always observe; there is a human dignity it must always respect. This was another example of how he tried always to apply the Gospel to the specific historical circumstances in which he found himself and of how he spoke out clearly on issues of justice and human dignity.
He was a genuine pastor. For his Christian leadership he paid the supreme price. Many have died before him in El Salvador. His own funeral was marred by violence and loss of life. We do not forget those other victims of the struggle. Willingly or unwillingly, they too have gone to their deaths. But Archbishop Romero rightly stands in our thoughts and prayers tonight as a symbol of all those who have suffered in his tormented country. His faithfulness and his heroic witness mark him out as a true martyr. May his sacrifice save El Salvador from the unrestricted violence of civil war. May his example strengthen us to uphold justice and human dignity in our own situations. May we, like him, be faithful to our Master who forgave his enemies and gave his life for the whole of sinful humanity. May he rest in peace.
In unscripted remarks at the end of the Mass, Cardinal Hume added:
"It would be wrong for me to anticipate the mind of the Church, but I personally believe that one day Archbishop Romero will be recognised as a saint of the Church"
He was proved right! In October 2018 Romero was canonised in Rome by Pope Francis - as St Oscar Romero.
Special Masses, ecumenical services and educational events had been organised in England, Scotland and Wales to celebrate this great contemporary martyr and saint. Unsurprisingly, they have all had to be postponed.
St Oscar Romero - Pray for Us.
Romero Trust - www.romerotrust.org.uk
Vatican report (in Spanish) www.vaticannews.va/es/iglesia/news/2020-03/san-romero-el-salvador-40-aniversario.html
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