Friday, June 30, 2006

In the name of God: Stop the repression! (Oscar Romero)

In being the archbishop of San Salvador, one has to follow a careful tradition of being quiet about the elite and the abuses committed in the country. At first, everyone thought that Oscar Romero, the newly appointed archbishop, would follow the tradition. The new archbishop was a shy and reserved man. Romero, together with other bishops, drafted letters of protest against the government, which was to be read at all the masses. In it, they lamented over the fact about the government’s brutality against the peasants and the persecutions against the Catholic Church.

The new archbishop remained the same until the assassination of his friend, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, who worked with the activists in El Salvador. From that day onwards, he became outspoken in defending his flock. The archbishop said that Grande is “Salvador’s first Christian martyr, a dedicated man of God who worked for the very poor.” The archbishop then pronounced excommunication on all who would commit violence against a priest. Romero demanded investigation for his friend’s murder, since the bullets found in his body may be from weapons by the military.

Romero finally realized that the Church do not have any influence on the government. Romero issued a letter of protest to be read in all Sunday Masses inside and outside the archdiocese.

As an act of protest, the bishops had all Catholic schools and churches closed for three days, and only one mass would be held next Sunday, to be held in the Cathedral. Romero realized that by taking this action, he would alienate himself from the landowners and the authorities, whom he had befriended. But Romero stood up against them. Even though he was reproved by the Papal Nuncio for his actions, he continued with his plan.

All the priests of the archdiocese of San Salvador attended the mass, and an estimated 100,000 faithful attended the mass. It was the largest single show of strength in El Salvador’s history, and also a death sentence for Romero. The bridges between Romero and the oligarchy started burning.
The violence was not only concentrated on radical priests, but also on the innocent peasants. Once, the soldiers used the village church in Aguillares as their barracks and desecrated it. Romero told the president, “I do not understand how you can publicly declare yourself Catholic by upbringing and conviction yet allow these unspeakable outrages on the part of the security forces in a country that we call civilized and Christian.”
It thus became obvious that the government was not for the people. With the continued killings and brutalities against the peasants and priests. Romero and the Church became targeted by the government for attack. They betrayed the Church and the people.

Romero was once thrown in jail for trying to protect a priest who was hostaged. He began receiving death threats, but he never paid any attention to them. For him, defending his flock is more important than his life. He is a true shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Pressure against the Church and the poor continued. The White Warrior Union, a group of landowners, said that they would kill more priests. The government also denounce militant priests as “communists.” Among those who were branded as “communists” was Romero.

Some of the bishops in El Salvador also criticized Romero for his outspokenness. One said that Romero was only claiming to defend human rights, but he only wanted to be a “Latin American Jimmy Carter.” Romero knew that he had failed in many ways. But he was sure that he wasn’t guilty of the accusations thrown against him by his fellow bishops. Once, during a meeting, he raised a question about the silence of the bishops, “What have we done to prevent the murder of more than twenty teachers and the recent death of our fellow priest Fr. Rafael Palacios?” This question reminded them of God’s question to Cain when he murdered Abel.

Once, he set out for Rome for a beatification. Romero told Pope John Paul II about the problems his country is facing and called for specific replies. The Pope said he agreed with Romero, but he reminded him of the importance of unity of the bishops. While he was in Rome, the violence continued. Twenty-five people who were demonstrating in front of the Cathedral were killed by the police. When he went back to El Salvador, Romero issued a statement, saying, “As archbishop of San Salvador, I call on the consciences and hearts of those responsible not to continue their unyielding and intransigent position, but to yield and seek a way to break as soon as possible this endless chain of bloody deeds. What matters now is not to show the nation and the world who is stronger or the winner but who is more responsible and humane, capable of stopping this spiral growth of violence.” This plea only fell on deaf ears.

More bloodshed continued, and Romero reminded the Christian faithful of their vocations, “If ever they take our radio, suspend our newspaper, silence us, put to death all of us priests, bishops included, and you are left alone – people without priests – then each one of you will have to be God’s microphone. Each of you will have to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as even one baptized person is left alive!”

Romero stated in a homily, “The shepherd does not want security while security is no given to his flock.” Once, the president offered Romero anything he wanted as protection, even a bulletproof car. He respectfully declined the offer, saying it was an “anti-pastoral witness where I to ride in such safety while my people are so insecure.”

Meanwhile, the government continued to show some promising and modest signs o improvement. He noticed that the government was starting to respect human rights. But the government was overthrown by a new military government. They started abusing the people again. Romero wrote a letter to President Carter of the US to stop sending military support to the repressive military of El Salvador.

Romero felt that his end is coming near. In his last Sunday Mass, he said in his homily:
“er. igent position, but to yield andcall on the consciences and hearts of those responsible forront of the Cathedral were killed byGod’s law must prevail which says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfil an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences rather than obey orders of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, the law of God, of human dignity, 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.”

The following Monday, March 24, 1980, Romero went to his confessor to receive the sacrament of Confession. He said, “I want to feel clean in the Lord’s presence.” That evening, he said mass in a funeral at the Divina Providencia Cancer hospital. As he was saying mass, he was shot by a gunman connected with the highest members of the El Salvadoran military. His last homily served enough for the military.


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