Romero still fuels liberation

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“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.” – Monseñor Óscar Romero

35 years ago, on March 24, as he celebrated the Eucharist in the chapel of la Divina Providencia, Monseñor  Óscar Romero was assassinated.

I often wonder what he must have been thinking in that last moment when he looked through the door of the church and saw his assassin climbing out of his car. During his most radical years, he spoke about knowing that he was a target for the Salvadoran government; in one of his most famous quotes, he said that if they killed him, he would be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.

I believe that Monseñor Romero is alive in El Salvador and lives on in the memory of people across the globe. In many ways, he has become the symbol of sacrifice, the preferential option of the poor and living out liberation theology to its core. He not only serves as an example for those who are of the religious persuasion, but also serves as an inspiration in activist circles from St. Louis to Chiapas.

Monseñor Romero did not speak of injustice in obscure terms typical of the Catholic Church before Vatican II (and even today); he did not expect those who suffered to continue suffering because it was the “holy” thing to do and their reward would be found in heaven. He demanded that the suffering would stop suffering at the hands of the systems and structures that created the environment in which people had to navigate their daily life. He was not afraid to point out the injustices carried out by the Salvadoran government (with the support of the United States).

In every Salvadoran home I walked into, there was a picture of the Monseñor; whether it was a framed item or a tattered prayer card, his image continues to inspire those who fight against the seemingly unstoppable forces of injustice. It also serves to remind those who look at his picture that it is right to struggle for liberation, that suffering in this life is not what God wants.

In some ways, I think the image and life of Monseñor Romero is a lesson in creating spaces of radical self-love and understanding that as marginalized people, our existence is revolutionary.

This premise of “existir es resistir” (existence is resistance) fuels the movements against repressive states, which allow for violence on a wide scale to occur. I don’t see Monseñor as limited to one moment in history; his legacy continues to fuel revolutionary spaces in which people empower themselves in the process of seeking liberation.

I firmly believe that Monseñor would not agree with the violent silence that seems to be popular among many people of privilege in the face of injustice.

He once said, “Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution to the good of all, peace is dynamism, peace is generosity, it is a right and a duty” and said “It is not enough to be good, it is not enough to not do evil. My Christianity is something more positive; it is not a negative.”

Keeping those words in mind, one may conclude that peace for Óscar Romero was not a passive act; it was not meant to be cultivated in the silence of isolated comfort; peace was to be cultivated in the spaces that make us uncomfortable, in the spaces that challenge us and in the spaces where we must sacrifice.

Perhaps, in his last moments as he was celebrating the Eucharist, Monseñor was thinking, “Brother, I hope you find liberation”.