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San Óscar Romero, Saint of the People

October 17, 2018 by

Oscar Romero photograph

I remember when I first heard the word canonize. My child-mind conjured up smoke and noise, and a long black cylinder. I don’t remember the context anymore at all, surely something the adults around me were discussing, and clearly above my head.

It makes me smile to recall that childhood confusion as I read now about the canonization of Arch Bishop Romero, Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the beloved martyr of El Salvador. Using the affectionate cadences of Spanish, he is known as San Óscar, staying close and accessible in the hearts of his people.

A native Salvadoran, Monseñor Romero lived in service to his people during the blood-soaked civil war, and he died serving Christ Jesus, literally. He was celebrating Mass, hands open in supplication at the altar, when a sharpshooter’s bullet felled him. His death evokes that of our Savior’s so strongly that ignoring the symbolism would be tantamount to rejecting his sacrifice. I’m for San Óscar, Protestant that I am.

Originally a staunch defender of the ecclesiastic status quo, Romero was one of the strongest voices for the oppressed and downtrodden, an ardent supporter of the poor; indeed, for Romero, Christ himself lived in the poor of El Salvador. Romero’s weekly homilies – a call to discipleship and justice and peace – were broadcast across El Salvador and heard by thousands of parishioners, and by those who hated him and his message enough to kill him.

Romero's death evokes that of our Savior’s so strongly that ignoring the symbolism would be tantamount to rejecting his sacrifice.

His last sermon ended with an appeal to the men of the army, the police, and the National Guard: “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.” It was this final cry that earned him the martyr’s bullet. But his message has not been silenced; rather, it has been amplified.

Originally delivered in Spanish, his homilies were collected by Jon Sobrino, S.J., and later translated, edited, and compiled in English by Fr. James Brockman S.J., Romero’s official biographer. This compilation was published in 1988 under the title The Violence of Love, by Harper and Row.

Plough, Bruderhof’s publishing arm, acquired the rights to reprint this title in 1999, and produced a slim, beautifully designed edition. But then the real excitement started when my mother and my husband began to work on the Spanish edition. A generation had come of age since Romero’s assassination, and his message needs not only preserving but promoting. Of course there was no need for translation, nor for any editing: Romero was not only a priest, but also a poet, and his challenging call for justice and brotherhood required no linguistic improvements. Acquiring the originals proved to be the main work.

My mother wrote away to Jon Sobrino, who supplied the majority of the texts. In the evenings she would come to our house, and she and my husband would pore over the texts, finding the original Spanish to match the English compilation. The few homilies that were not in Sobrino’s collection of originals they acquired from Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador.

La violencia del amor is available in print and as an e-book, and is puro San Óscar, as he should be read and taken in. If you have not read it or its English counterpart, I encourage you to, especially as we celebrate his canonization this month. San Óscar’s voice lives on in these pages, and in the hearts of the thousands who heard his homilies.

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Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey

Carmen Hinkey and her husband Stephen live at the Mount Community in New York State.

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  • Have you checked out the movie Romero where a Puerto Rican plays him? It's a awesome movie and very well played by him (Raul Julia) , I read that making that movie changed his life and he was working for peace and justice in his life until his untimely death. We watch it every year on the anniversary of the bishops death. Hey thanks for the article and the funny part about canonization!!

    Joesph Mack