To mark the Centenary year of Oscar Romero, both Therese and I attended the Ecumenical Evensong in Westminster Abbey to pay tribute to this truly inspirational, soon to be, saint.
It is hard to separate our work in CAFOD from the witness of Blessed Oscar Romero with the poor in his own country in El Salvador. Even before he was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out on behalf of the poorest in, Monsenor Romero, as he is known by the Salvadoran people, was already a saint in their eyes.
And to re-emphasise this point, Romero’s statue sits proudly on the front wall of Westminster Abbey, alongside Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other great witnesses to our world today. It was only too fitting that Westminster Abbey be the place to celebrate his life and witness to the world through a beautiful ecumenical Evensong.
What makes Romero’s witness so remarkable was his love for the poor. He didn’t just help them, he defended them by denouncing their oppressors: the economic elite, the armed forces, governments, political parties. He spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.
Archbishop Romero was one of those who genuinely understood what it might be for the Church to be a Church of the poor. A Church where the dispossessed and the wretched found their dignity and their agency, their capacity to make a difference.
– Lord Rowan Williams
It is his deep love and commitment for the poor which remains an inspiration to millions around the globe as well as our work here in CAFOD. His love and passion, as well as his vision for creating a just world is the same love and passion that I hope that we in CAFOD can in some way replicate today. In many ways, our work in CAFOD is to mirror this love, a love that calls for justice, a love that speaks out on the needs of the poor and oppressed, and a love that embraces all and calls for a true liberation.
Or as Lord Rowan Williams put it so eloquently in his sermon on the day, “Our true liberation comes when we understand that opening our hands, sharing what we have, is how liberation manifests itself. Christ does not want slaves, says Romero. He wants us all, rich and poor, to love one another as sisters and brothers.”
It is hard not to be moved by Romero’s many writings, and especially his sermons which are full of energy, passion, love and care for the poorest in his country. Taking sides with the oppressed and advocating on their behalf was always going to be risky business in a country teetering on civil war. But Romero was committed to walking alongside and being in solidarity with his people. “With people like this it is hard not to be a good shepherd” he said. He was the people’s great pastor.
And from his many writings, many have their favourite Romero quote, for which there are many. Mine would be this simple and challenging one:
“To pray and expect everything to come from God and not to do anything yourself, is not prayer. This is laziness.” – Oscar Romero
A tough message from a truly modern day prophet! So, with that in mind, let us not be a lazy people, and work together to bring about the liberation of all people!
To find out more how you can continue the legacy of Oscar Romero, find out how you can join on of our Romero Circles.