March 24 – Blessed Oscar Romero

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Today the Church commemorates Blessed Oscar Romero. When Monsignor Oscar Romero was installed as Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador in February 1977, he was thrust into a tumultuous situation. A military coup in October 1979 led to a gruesome, twelve year civil war. These events were precipitated by the great disparity between a small number of powerful, wealthy families – who were backed by local politicians and the military – and the rest of El Salvador’s citizens. Many people suffered extreme poverty. Laborers worked for minimal pay for wealthy landowners, yet they could not hope to obtain land for themselves. The military terrorized the people in order ensure that the families held onto land and money. The Catholic Church became a target when some clergy began to defend the poor. In response to these injustices, some Salvadorans took up arms and fought against the military. While some Latin American clergy promoted violence as a response to injustice, Archbishop Romero advocated for a different weapon: Christian love. Before becoming archbishop, Monsignor Romero was not aware that the government was responsible for the deaths of many civilians. Because of his quiet nature, some thought that he would be good for the position, assuming he would not meddle in controversial affairs. However, shortly after his installation, his close friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, a priest who openly opposed the unjust practices of wealthy landowners, was assassinated by gunmen while traveling with two people to celebrate Mass. This experience awakened Archbishop Romero to the reality of the corruption in his country and prompted him to take a stand for his people’s freedom. Archbishop Romero preached many homilies that were broadcast throughout San Salvador. He persistently defended the rights of the people, calling government leaders to conversion and challenging them to uphold God’s law. He reminded the people that they were loved by God and that fighting back with Christian charity was the way to victory. His vocal response to government violence against the poor led to difficulties with other clergy members and his religious superiors as well as death threats from government accomplices. In spite of these challenges, he continued to speak out on behalf of the poor. On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was shot to death while celebrating the Eucharist in the chapel of Divina Providencia hospital. Blessed Oscar Romero was beatified by Pope Francis in May 2015.

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