Blessed Oscar Romero: “¡Viva!”

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Blessed Oscar Romero: “¡Viva!”
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I've been back from El Salvador for 24 hours and still cannot believe that we have just celebrated the beatification of Archbishop Romero as a martyr.  Many, many people have longed for years for this great day.  As a young theology student, working with Central American refugees, I heard hundreds of testimonies of the violence that forced them to flee their beloved homelands.  Always, in the midst of their stories, they would eventually mention “Monseñor Romero." The poor of Central America spoke of Romero as if he were their best friend, their faithful and trusted shepherd and teacher, the one who understood their sufferings and wiped away their tears, encouraging them to keep walking.

During those years of studies I had the great privilege of visiting El Salvador several times. Those visits helped me see the face of an incarnate Jesus, a Jesus who walks side-by-side with the people of God, sharing in their sufferings and joys, their struggles and hopes. Archbishop Romero became for me an icon of Jesus – the one who is willing to go all the way, to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable, the poorest, those struggling for change and dreaming for new life. Romero's words gave flesh to the gospel, opening a way for my theological studies to take root deep within my heart. A distant God who watched people suffer, who stood idly by as innocent people were tortured and killed was not the kind of God I could believe in.  Monseñor Romero spoke of a different God, a God who suffers with us, a God of compassion, a God who, like a mother who embraces the tortured body of her son, never leaves our side.

This past Saturday hundreds of thousands of people from around the world marched through the streets of San Salvador, singing songs and carrying pictures of the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his flock. To be swept up in such a sea of disciples and pilgrims of peace is an experience that I will never forget. I think I felt something like what the disciples experienced when their crucified and beloved teacher appeared to them as the risen Christ.  Love triumphs in the end!  Yes, sometimes we have to wait for the seed that was sown in the cold, hard ground to sprout and show signs of new life. The waiting makes us strong; it teaches us to link our arms, unite our hearts and walk together, sharing our fears and our faith, rekindling our belief that nothing is impossible for God.

Those who thought they could extinguish the fire that burned in Monseñor Romero’s heart now know that they built their houses on sand.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth” (Mt. 23:27).  I know that Blessed Oscar Romero prays for them today, too, though many still resist the truth, choosing instead to follow the gods of money and power.  May they, too, join this great pilgrimage of justice, love and peace, and know that they are welcomed and embraced at the table of the just, the table of the Reign of God.

Brian J. Pierce, OP - 26 May 2015