Today’s post was written by Mark Zimmerman, a long-time friend of Love & Hope Children’s Home, and father of our educator, Kirsten. Mark has taken a special interest in El Salvador and its history since first visiting here over eight years ago. We asked Mark to share about Monseñor Oscar Romero’s recent beatification in El Salvador.
On Memorial Day weekend in the United States, a different kind of “memorial weekend” took place in El Salvador.
Although none of the children of Love & Hope are even close to being old enough to remember Oscar Romero, their lives as Salvadorans have been affected by his life.
Oscar Romero (1917-1980) was “beatified” on Saturday, May 23rd by the Catholic Church. This – in Catholicism – is the final step before “Sainthood” in the Catholic faith.
As an Evangelical, I will not debate the many representations of the Christian faith in this short post. Suffice to say, I feel Romero’s place as a “saint” needs no earthly confirmation. In Romans 1.7, Paul uses the term “saint” to describe all those in the church in 1st century Rome… and saints we are in Christ – to this day.
What follows is a short attempt to outline an amazing life. I will pass along some links to pursue on your own… and I guarantee you, it will be worth your time.
At his appointment as Archbishop of the Diocese of El Salvador in 1977, Romero’s elevation to the post disappointed many. His previous career undistinguished, much of the Jesuit community felt the choice to be bland and uninspired.
That changed quickly when one of Romero’s few supporters, Father Rutilio Grande, was brutally assassinated. Literally overnight, Oscar Romero’s homilies completely changed in tone, and forcefulness.
He became a champion of the poor, the oppressed, and – as the raids by death squads increased – the “disappeared”.
Oscar Romero became a target. He was despised by the American-backed government. He was despised by the Soviet/Cuban-backed FMLN rebels. And he was despised by the conservative Jesuits who felt he was embracing “liberation theology”. This serious theological charge had no basis in fact, and has been repeated for decades. If you read the Monsignor’s homilies from 1977 until his death, although you find the word “liberation”, you will always find that Romero uses it to “tweak” his opponents:
“The church cannot agree with the forces that put their hope only in violence. The church does not want the liberation it preaches to be confused with liberations that are only political or temporal.
The church does concern itself with earthly liberation – it feels pain for those who suffer, for the illiterate, for those without electricity, without a roof, without a home. But it knows that human misfortune is found not only there. It is inside, deeper, in the heart – in sin.
It wants to tell us to work to be truly free, with a freedom that begins in the heart: the freedom of God’s children – the freedom that makes us into God’s children by taking us from the chains of sin.” April 8, 1979
See what I mean?
As Romero’s short, 3-year ministry continued, the death squads on both sides continued to wreak havoc on El Salvador’s poor and disenfranchised. The Monsignor’s call to Christ became louder:
“I believe that today more than ever in El Salvador we need to know Christ. Today needs Christians, and from Christianity will come humanity’s true liberators. Otherwise, we’ll be given violent, aggressive political movements of the extreme right or the extreme left, but we won’t be given true human beings.
From Christianity, from you, beloved brothers and sisters… will come the true liberators the nation needs.” September 23, 1979
Romero’s weekly radio messages were the most listened to broadcasts in El Salvador – when they could be heard. Both sides in the developing conflict blew up transmitters and towers owned by the Diocese at every opportunity. The Monsignor knew his time was growing short, and the people of El Salvador would need to be Christ’s voice in their society:
“If some day they take the radio station away from us, if they close down our newspaper, if they don’t let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left, a people without priests, each one of you must be God’s microphone, each one of you must be a messenger, a prophet.
The church will always exist as long as there is one baptized person.
And that one baptized person who is left in the world is responsible before the world for holding aloft the banner of the Lord’s truth and of his divine justice.” July 8, 1979
On March 24, 1980, while preparing to serve communion in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, Oscar Romero was assassinated. At his funeral in the National Cathedral, the plaza and square outside the church were packed with tens of thousands of mourners. For reasons still unclear, government troops opened fire on the crowd from the rooftops above. In the ensuing panic, scores not killed by the gunfire, were killed because they were trampled by the crowd.
From this point, a civil war which lasted 12 years, consumed this tiny nation that we love so much.
The effect of this war, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is felt in the lives of the children Love & Hope cares for today. Let me explain:
Before and during the civil war, as the American, Soviet, and Cuban administrations of Carter/Reagan/Brezhnev/Andropov/Chernenko/Gorbachev and Castro poured weaponry into El Salvador, the people were fleeing. It is thought that as many as 2 million – one-third of the Salvadoran population – left the country by any means possible. Many made it to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. Tens of thousands more made it to the United States, mainly settling in Los Angeles.
It was in Los Angeles that Salvadoran youth, without money or opportunity, founded the 18th Street Gang (M-18), and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). At the civil war’s conclusion, jails filled with these Salvadoran gang members were emptied by the US State Department, and the occupants deported to their homeland.
And so, in 1992 and 1993, the Bush and Clinton administrations returned planeloads of violent Salvadoran gang members to a country decimated by war, with a brand-new government that had little or no support from its own people.
I think we can all look at today’s headlines and see how that turned out.
I know many of you reading this have visited Love & Hope, and have seen some of the beauty of El Salvador. We have also seen the results of the constant pain inflicted upon these noble people.
…or, you can download a free .pdf here: http://www.plough.com/en/ebooks/uv/violence-of-love
Since the American media is far more concerned with politician’s emails and celebrity rehabs, my wife and I have found the BBC is an excellent source for news in Central America: http://www.bbc.com/news/world/latin_america
As last weekend’s events unfolded, here is at least one US TV news organization that chose to pay attention – a heartbreaking story: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/05/22/salvadoran-sister-brother-played-opposite-roles-in-story-slain-archbishop-oscar/
I have found that understanding Oscar Romero has helped me tremendously in understanding the beautiful – and troubled – land that my daughter calls home. And I pray that you will, too.
“This hour of trial will pass and the ideal so many Christians died for will survive resplendent.
It is a black night we are living, but Christianity discerns that beyond the night the dawn already glows.
The hope that does not fail is carried in the heart.
Christ goes with us!” September 23, 1979