By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker
The life and work of Archbishop Oscar Romero will be celebrated at the 11am Mass at St Mary’s, Lowe House this coming Sunday (22 March).
Liverpool is one of only two places in the world that have commemorated Romero’s assassination every year since his murder in 1980 – the other is El Salvador – but this year’s Mass will be different as we can now celebrate a joyful life and faithful ministry that led to martyrdom. Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977–80, was officially declared a martyr by Pope Francis last month and will be beatified on 23 May.
Romero’s mission was one of hope, of good news. He was appointed Archbishop because he was seen as ‘a safe pair of hands’, known as a friend of the rich and powerful, including the country’s military rulers. But they were wrong about him. He was quiet so they thought he was unthinking; he was gentle so they thought he was weak; he was traditional so they thought he was conservative; he was a friend of the rich so they thought he was an enemy of the poor; he was old so they thought he could not change. They did not reckon on the power of the Gospel.
Romero had always been a deeply spiritual man who spent long hours in prayer. There is a story of a man being sent to the chapel to meet him. At the chapel there was no sign of the Archbishop, just an old priest saying his prayers. The visitor waited impatiently for nearly an hour, looking at his watch and wondering when Romero would turn up. Then the priest got up from his knees and came to the door. It was Romero.
Soon after his appointment, one of his priests was murdered (Rutillo Grande who is now being considered for beatification). At that point, Romero brought the reality of life in El Salvador into his prayer and the man of prayer became also a man of action.
During the three years that Romero was Archbishop, El Salvador was building up to a civil war that exploded into its full horror soon after his death. Experience of the ordinary lives of ordinary people had a huge effect on Romero. He was evangelised by the people he visited in impoverished and brutally violated communities: the people of God changed him.
Two months before his death Romero said: ‘The Word of God is not a reading of the past but a living Word, a Spirit that is being accomplished here and now.’ Romero teaches us that faith is an active thing; that God is alive in our lives; that we are called to act justly; that reconciliation is not only possible but essential.