Wednesday, 24 March 2010

He spoke truth to power

At 7pm tonight, a special mass takes place in St Chad's Cathedral to remember Oscar Romero. Today is the 30th anniversary of his assassination and around the world there are events to commemorate it. And for good reason. At a time when many are cynical about religious figures, Archbishop Romero remains an inspiration.

His deep commitment to his faith led him to champion the rights of the poor and oppressed in his native El Salvador. While many others in positions of authority either censored themselves in the face of injustice or actively colluded with the military junta in perpetuating it, Archbishop Romero refused to turn a blind eye. He bore witness to the suffering of others, and used his position to expose and campaign against it. His last sermon proved too much for the military junta. Following another spate of murders he made an impassioned plea to the soldiers and police to ignore their commanding officers:

‘I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.’

Reading it now beings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. For his courage Archbishop Romoro paid the ultimate price. He was assassinated as he celebrated mass. But while the names of his assassins are long forgotten, 30 years later the name and legacy of Oscar Romero rings out. He has become an inspiration to new generations of people, like myself, for whom a commitment to faith and the struggle for social justice are bound together.