A lot has been written in these pages about liberation theology. I’ve defined it as “Reflection on the following of Jesus of Nazareth from the viewpoint of those committed to the liberation of the world’s poor and oppressed.” I’ve called it the most important theological development in 1700 years and perhaps the most important intellectual development since the publication of the Communist Manifesto. (See my blog posts by clicking the “liberation theology” button just under the masthead of this blog site.)
Well, today is the feast day of liberation theology’s patron saint, Oscar Romero. On this day, March 24th in 1980, St. Oscar was gunned down by the U.S. – supported military of El Salvador. He was shot while celebrating the Eucharist in a convent chapel.
His killing was part of what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It was fought by the U.S.-Vatican axis against the Catholic Church in Central America. That church had committed the unpardonable sin of taking seriously the call of the Second Vatican Council to live out what the Council called Jesus’ own “preferential option for the poor.” Such doctrinal consistency was unacceptable to the U.S. government and to the pope of Rome.
St. Oscar had been a conservative priest who was appointed archbishop of San Salvador by Pope John Paul II precisely because of Romero’s conservative leanings in both politics and theology. In a country heavily influenced by liberation theology, he could be counted on to continue the Catholic Church’s war against that movement, as well as its support for the Salvadoran oligarchy, the butchery of its military, and the U.S. policy that sponsored it all.
That particular troika brought about in 1977 the killing of Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest and close friend of St. Oscar. Their friendship had flourished even though Grande was an advocate of liberation theology.
Following Grande’s assassination, Romero underwent a profound conversion. He passed from being the enemy of liberation theology like John Paul II, his lieutenant Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI), and Jorge Bergoglio (the future Francis I) to being its ardent promoter like Grande himself.
As U.S.-sponsored “White Hand” assassination squads did their bloody work throughout El Salvador, St. Oscar denounced the bloodbath in no uncertain terms. Each Sunday his sermons were broadcast throughout the country denouncing the military and reading the unending lists of people tortured, garroted, executed, burned, buried alive, drowned, smothered, shot and raped the previous week.
That is, while Bergoglio was giving at least “silent consent” to those same crimes by the military in Argentina, and while John Paul II worked hand in glove with Ronald Reagan against liberation theology, Romero fulfilled the role of courageous prophet in El Salvador.
For his troubles, St. Oscar received threats daily from the White Hand. He could see that his own days were numbered. “Yes, they will kill a bishop,” he had said, “but may my blood may be the seed of freedom for the Salvadoran people.” Those words and others spoken by the sainted archbishop are centralized in the song featured at the top of today’s blog post. (See the sponsoring website: TheMartyrsProject.com/)
True to his premonitions, on this day 33 years ago, he was shot at the altar.
But what if he had survived? What if (impossibly) he had been created Cardinal? What if he had been elected pope? How different then the church would be. How different the world.
Conversions are possible. St. Oscar changed profoundly.
Can something similar happen for Francis I?
St. Oscar, pray for us!
Pray for Francis I!