From the Psalter:
Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,
and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 79:11 (BCP Version) – March 24, 2014.)
This verse is from the optional additional evening psalm for today. I chose to focus on it because today is the commemoration (on the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar) of the martyred Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. Today is the 34th anniversary of his assassination; he was shot to death while celebrating a private funeral mass for the mother of a friend.
Romero was a relatively conservative priest before being appointed a bishop in 1970. When he was made auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, he was not welcomed by the more radical progressives among the clergy; until his appointment as archbishop seven years later, he did not distinguish himself as any sort of social activist. He was made Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María in 1975 and then Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. His appointment met with approval in Salvadoran government circles, who felt he would be a “safe” bishop, but was met with surprise and dismay by some clergy. They feared that with his conservative reputation he would put the brakes on liberation theology and their commitment to the poor.
However, a month after this elevation to archbishopric, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated. Grande had been creating self-reliance groups (“base communities”) among the poor campesinos, a program seen as a threat to the right wing military supported government. His death had a profound impact on Romero who later stated “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought ‘if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.” For the next three years, until his assassination, Romero’s theology became increasingly radicalized as he spoke out for the poor in his country.
Later that same year, on New Year’s Eve, Romero preached a sermon of which the today’s evening psalm, with its plea that God hear the groaning of suffering prisoners, reminded me:
For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. As holy defender of God’s rights and of his images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image.
Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom. (Homily by O. Romero, December 31, 1977)
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
On this 34th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, you might be interested in the music video we have produced to honor his legacy. You may view the video at http://youtu.be/21CN815v2G0. Feel free to post, embed or review the video. For more information go to TheMartyrsProject.com.