"I will rise again in the Salvadoran people'- Remembering Blessed Oscar Romero

Throughout history, the voice of the prophet is one of the vehicles through which God speaks to the community and to the world. Today, we commemorate one of these prophets. On this day, 37 years ago, evil men in El Salvador tried to silence the voice of a prophet. I claim this date as being special to my life story because it was the month and the year that I was to grace the world, the due date given to my mother. However God had another plan and I arrived a little earlier on January 24th. It continues to be a day where I remember Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

Knowing himself to be on the government’s “hit list,” Romero went to the hills to prepare himself for his final confrontation with evil. He telephoned his farewell message to Exclesior, Mexico’s premier newspaper, insisting that like the Good Shepherd, a pastor must give his life for those he loves. Romero was shot while celebrating an anniversary Mass of a  friend’s mother at the local convent. The assassin escaped in the hubbub and has never been found. 250,000 thronged the Cathedral Square for his funeral but sadly even that was not without bloodshed. A bomb exploded. Panic-stricken people stampeded. Forty died. In the next two years 35,000 Salvadorans perished. Fifteen per cent of the population was driven into exile. Two thousand simply “disappeared.”

My personal admiration for Romero goes back to a discernment weekend which was held in our community in Dublin back in 1997. I remember it vividly because that weekend we watched the movie ‘Romero’. The story of this heroic pastor was life changing. At a certain point of his journey, Romero is shown literally at a crossroads. We see him fall to his knees and he utters a simple prayer: “I can’t, You must, I’m Yours, lead me!” It was the prayer from a heart that didn’t know what to do in the face of such injustice, death and despair. He was the pastor and the sheep continued to be slaughtered and torn from his grasp. I found myself in tears because I realised that that simple prayer echoed the sentiments of my own heart. I had been rebelling against the Lord for such a long time in responding to the call to religious life and I was tired. Romero’s prayer had become my prayer. If I was to embark upon the journey of trying consecrated life, it had to be upon fully surrendering to the guidance of the Shepherd. This simple prayer has been my lifeline on many occasions, a call back to reality and to see that I need to be guided and that I can’t do this on my own. It is a prayer which I whisper often each day when words fail me in prayer or don’t seem to carry me as they usually do.
 Today in Italy, the Church marks the “Day for Prayer for Missionary Martyrs”. The United Nations have proclaimed this day “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”.

Last Monday Pope Francis received the Prelates of El Salvador, who are in Rome for their 'ad Limina Apostolorum' visit. They took the opportunity to request that, God, willing, the canonisation ceremony for Blessed Romero take place in El Salvador. What a great event that will be and what a witness for the Salvadoran people that the voice of justice, the voice of the prophet will not be silenced! As Monsenor Romero himself said: "I will rise up in the Salvadoran people".

On the threshold of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, a quote from Blessed Romero can guide us so as to proclaim a 'Yes' to God's will, like that of Mary's: "Faith consists in accepting God without asking him to account for things according to our standard. Faith consists in reacting before God as Mary did: I don’t understand it, Lord , but let it be done in me according to your word. These are the words of our Mother Mary: let it be done in me according to your word. It is one word: Yes! A life programme! Surrender all! Fiat! Amen! Let it be done.  Believe it or not, the word YES is the most powerful prayer you can make. It is our ‘Amen’. How many times a day do we say ‘Amen’? This is saying that, “I believe God that you probably know what’s best for my life . . . for my life more than I do, and I’m willing to trust you with my life. And I’m willing to go along with what I understand to be your plans for my life."

A more detailed blog post I wrote before about Romero can be found here.