Romero: A Prophet for our time
The recent Oscar Romero Lecture at Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds was sponsored by The Romero Trust and the J&P Commission. It was given by the great friend of CAFOD Ruben Zamora whose own life of exemplary high level public service in El Salvador was characterized by his personal contact with Archbishop Oscar Romero, the priest murdered saying Mass for his passionate denunciation of state violence against the poor.
Rather than speak about his martyrdom Ruben Zamora chose to speak about Oscar Romero as a modern prophet. Of course, a prophet it is always important to stress is not a fortune teller sat predicting the future but follows in the long line of the prophetic tradition ranging back into the Old Testament with those such as Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah and in the New Testament John the Baptist. The prophets have been described as the “conscience of Israel” discerning the ‘signs of the times’ whose minds, in the words of Emeritus Pope Benedict writing in the 1970’s, were able “to probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others because they embrace a wider reality”.
The prophets did not outline the historical future but called people back to face the realities of their times and in the light of them to change their ways.
Archbishop Oscar Romero is solidly in the prophetic tradition and became known in his lifetime through his preaching and pastoral action as the champion of the poor and ‘the voice of the
voiceless of El Salvador’ at a time of military dictatorship and violent repression – but he did not start of from there. Rather, he was quite a traditional conservative Catholic, an ‘establishment’ Church figure not rocking the boat until the shocking conversion moments of the murder of priests and thousands of the poor in his Diocese by the government military and their agents. In particular, it was the murder of his friend and guide the Jesuit priest Fr Rutillo Grande that profoundly affected him and led to his courageously outspoken daily challenges to the government of El Salvador to stop the oppression and violence. He reported in his daily Mass sermons on ‘the events of the day” spelling out the suffering and deaths of the people and
the people, listening to their sufferings and being courageously outspoken but also his great “humility” an often-neglected quality in a true prophet. ‘Those who have Archbishop Romero as a friend in faith’, wrote Pope Francis “who invoke him as protector and intercessor, who admire him, should find in him strength and energy to build the Kingdom of God and work for a more dignified social order”.
In a recent Apostolic Exhortation Pope Francis recommends us to look to the inspiration of the saints. Blessed Oscar Romero is a saint of our turbulent times when our work for both justice and peace is as demanding and crucial as ever.