*The below message is taken from the weekly Cathedral Record newsletter. The full Cathedral Record is available to pick up from the Cathedral or can be downloaded here*
Third Sunday of Lent
As we will be commemorating the life and martyrdom of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Solemn Mass this Sunday I enclose some details of his life and ministry for the record this week.
Romero spent the first two and half decades of his ministerial career as a parish priest and diocesan secretary in San Miguel. In 1970 he became auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and served in that position until 1974 when the Vatican named him to the diocese of Santiago de María, a poor, rural region which included his boyhood hometown. In 1977 he returned to the capital to succeed San Salvador’s aged metropolitan archbishop.
During this period Oscar Romero’s reputation was as a conservative, and on more than one occasion he showed himself skeptical of both Vatican II reforms and the Medellín pronouncements. For this reason his appointment as archbishop in 1977 was not popular with the socially committed clergy, to whom it appeared to signal the Vatican’s desire to restrain them. To their surprise, Romero emerged almost immediately as an outspoken opponent of injustice and defender of the poor.
By Romero’s own account, he owed his change of attitude to his brief tenure as bishop of Santiago de María, where he witnessed first-hand the suffering of El Salvador’s landless poor. Increasing government violence against socially committed priests and laypersons undermined his trust in the good will of the authorities and led him to fear that the Church and religion themselves were under attack.
The assassination on March 12, 1977, of his long- time friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande brought a stinging denunciation from Romero, who suspended masses in the capital’s churches the following Sunday and demanded the punishment of the responsible parties.
As Romero spoke out more and more frequently over the following months, he gathered an ever- increasing popular following who crowded into the cathedral to hear him preach or listened to his sermons over YSAX, the archdiocesan radio station. In his youth Romero had been a pioneer of broadcast evangelism in El Salvador, and he now turned the medium to great effect as he denounced both the violence of El Salvador’s incipient civil war and the deeply-rooted patterns of abuse and injustice which bred it. In a country whose rulers regarded dissent as subversion, Romero used the moral authority of his position as archbishop to speak out on behalf of those who could not do so for themselves. He soon came to be known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.”
When a coup d’état overthrew the Salvadoran government on October 15, 1979, Romero expressed cautious support for the reformist junta which replaced it. He soon became disenchanted, however, as the persecution of the poor and the Church did not cease. In February 1980 he addressed an open letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in which he called upon the United States to discontinue military aid to the regime. “We are fed up with weapons and bullets” he pleaded.
Romero’s campaign for human rights in El Salvador won him many national and international admirers as well as a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. It also won him enemies, however. On March 24, 1980, an assassin fired from the door of the chapel where Romero was celebrating mass and shot him dead. The archbishop had foreseen the danger of assassination and had spoken of it often, declaring his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation’s problems. “As a Christian,” he remarked on one such occasion, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”
Next Tuesday the Chapter of Canons will be meeting at the Cathedral and joining us for 12.15pm Mass and then on Wednesday the University of Liverpool are having a careers fair in the three Crypt Halls so midday mass on both those days will be in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.