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The legacy of Archbishop Oscar Romero lives on

HONG KONG (SE): On 23 February 1977, the bespectacled former seminary professor, Bishop Oscar Romero, became the archbishop of San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador.

His appointment delighted the conservative hierarchy and the business community as much as it disappointed the priests involved in the social struggle of the poor.

Yet, just one year later, the darling of the elite said, “To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in, is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power.

“A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon, is not the gospel.”

Then in July 1979, he spoke out in these words, “The Church, in its zeal to convert to the gospel, is seeing that its place is by the side of the poor, the outraged, the rejected, and that in their names it must speak out and demand their rights.

“But many persons belonging to the upper classes and feeling as if they own the Church, think that the Church is abandoning them and slipping away from its spiritual mission.

“It no longer preaches what is spiritual, it only preaches politics. It is not that. The Church is pointing out sin and society must listen to that accusation and be converted…” (Sermon July 1979).

In 1980, less than a month before he died, Archbishop Romero said at Louvain University in Belgium, “We may believe that from the transcendence of the gospel we can assess what the life of the poor consists of. But we also believe that in placing ourselves on the side of the poor and attempting to give them life, we will know what the eternal truth of the gospel consists of.”

At Mass on 24 March 1980, the 63-year-old archbishop of the poor, said, “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ—not for self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our people.”

Within five minutes his bullet-riddled body lay lifeless at the foot of the altar of the Lord.

But as he predicted, he rose up again in the Salvadoran people and his legacy lives on in the hearts of men and women the world over.

Bishop Christopher Munzihirwa, from the Congo, who was assassinated by pro-Rwandan militia, was called the Romero of Africa.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama, from Uganda, frequently quoted the murdered archbishop in trying to mediate peace in his war-torn diocese and the Church of England installed a statue of Archbishop Romero at Westminster Abbey in 1998 proclaiming him as one of the Ten Martyrs of the 20th Century.

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