The Martin Luther King we don’t hear about

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, as he was celebrating Mass, but a figure not widely known outside Central and Latin America or Christian social justice circles.

In the few years he spent as archbishop he became a lightning rod for the poor of El Salvador, voicing criticism of the politically-motivated violence aimed at those opposing the US-backed government in the midst of civil war. Speaking up at a time when execution and militia rule was all too common, opening the doors of churches to refugees and the and dispossessed, Romero paid for his advocacy with his life, the day after a sermon appealing to soldiers to obey their consciences and to disregard orders to kill fellow citizens.

The anniversary is being marked with major ecumenical celebrations in the UK, at Westminster Abbey and York Minster, and the picture (yes, I’m trying to start to use graphics) at the bottom, from Westminster Abbey, is an indicator of how his example of discipleship and bearing witness to the Christ’s message resonates beyond the Catholic Church.

I was first introduced to him via a quote on a CAFOD postcard: “Aspire not to have more but to be more,” which at once said something about hope, spirituality and consumerism all together in one. I’m still learning more about him and his example (for which the Oscar Romero Trust provides a good starting point), but I suppose what it does for me is to make tangible the principles and maxims of Catholic social thought.

For instance, the Pope’s encylical last summer, Caritas in Veritate, offers some pretty profound stuff about what it means to be human, the nature of our social obligations to others, our duty of care for the environment and the broader purposes of human progress (more on this at some later point). But it can also be pretty abstract stuff, that to fully take shape in our lives, needs to be expounded in terms of our everyday encounters and realities.

In a piece recounting Romero’s ministry as archbishop, and his transformation into an advocate for the oppressed, Fr. John Dear writes:

“Today, we remember Oscar Romero as a saint and a martyr, as a champion of the poor and prophet of justice. He calls us to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to think with them, feel with them, walk with them, listen to them, serve them, stand with them, become one with them, and even die with them. In that preferential solidarity, he summons us to carry on his prophetic pursuit of justice and disarmament.

“Thirty years later, as the wars and poverty continue, Romero’s conversion, death and resurrection push us to a deeper conversion on behalf of the world’s poor, especially to side with the latest victims of U.S. warmaking. His prophetic example challenges us to speak out as never before, and so to denounce Obama’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; our assassination training camps and execution chambers; our prisons and torture centers, such as Guantanamo; our corporate greed and unjust system; and our lack of funding for food, clothing, education, jobs, housing and true universal healthcare. Romero named war and poverty as sinful, idolatrous, and demonic; we need to do the same with the same faith, force and determination.”

The West Front of Westminster Abbey, featuring 20th century Christian martyrs. Romero is fifth from the right, holding a child

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One thought on “The Martin Luther King we don’t hear about

  1. […] want to be technical about it), to the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. I have previously blogged about him, and am particularly inspired by his example of bearing Christian witness to the Gospels, and he is […]

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