Lately I’ve been reading an updated biography about one of my heroes of the Christian faith, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. In 1977 Romero was named Archbishop of San Salvador largely because he was expected to be a conservative and quiet leader of the church during a time when many priests were speaking out on behalf of the poor peasants of the country. Some priests were organizing for the rights of workers and farmers. Romero was critical of the priests and he was selected to keep the church out of politics. Two experiences began to change Romero. First, he found himself spending time with those who lived at the bottom of the economic ladder. Seeing children searching for food in the trash dumps and the living conditions of the poor changed the bishop. And then his friend, Father Rutillio Grande, who was an advocate for the poor of El Salvador, was murdered. Grande was a part of a long line of Salvadorians who were murdered or kidnapped for their preaching/teaching. And Romero began to reflect on his own understandings of the Gospel and became a powerful voice for social justice in his land. Indeed, his preaching on the radio drew large audiences, especially those who were poor and oppressed, and he became a threat to the governing and political class.
On March 24, 1980, as he was celebrating Holy Communion at a small hospital chapel, he was shot dead, most likely by a hired assassin. Since then, Romero has become a model for a Christian faith that cares for the neighbor, paying special attention to those who are on the bottom of society and largely without power.
Consider these words from Romero:
We cannot segregate God’s word
from the historical reality
in which it is proclaimed.
It would not then be God’s word.
It would be history,
it would be a pious book,
a Bible that is just a book in our library.
It becomes God’s word
because it vivifies,
what is going on today in this society.
In other words, our Christian faith does impact our thoughts and actions in the larger world. Christians are called to practice a kind of faith that is not simply a collection of beliefs and doctrines. Our greatest affirmation of the Christian faith comes when we walk where Jesus walked, spending time sharing life with those who live at the margins of our society and world, and upholding the great teaching of our faith: all people are made in the image of God.
We live in a society that often seems very angry. People line themselves up against one another and throw verbal insults like hand grenades. But the church is called to stand up against those actions and words that demean others. We remember God’s creativity is behind the creation of all people and Romero reminds us that it is the church’s mission to stand up against those forces that harm the needs of those who are on the margins of our society. For Christ came to save the world, and his salvation is more than a set of beliefs. It is, indeed, a way of life. Again, Romero teaches us when he says, When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise. God comes to free us from sin, and the church knows that sin’s consequences are all such injustices and abuses. The church knows it is saving the world when it undertakes to speak also of such things.
That’s a faith for which we are willing to risk.