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Among the innumerable witnesses to the faith, yesterday and today, in our communities and among our people, stands the figure of Oscar Romero, a martyr for the cause of the Gospel. His martyrdom does not cease to be paradigmatic, and this for some key reasons.

The first and fundamental one is his journey of conversion. His personal story tells how he overcame the distance he felt and lived concerning simple people, changing it into an attitude of empathy and evangelical compassion. Archbishop Romero came to identify totally with the situation of oppression and misery of the Salvadoran people, placing himself right on the opposite sidewalk of where he used to walk and feel comfortable. Seeing himself in another existential situation, he came to say: "This is the fundamental thought of my preaching: nothing matters to me as much as human life.”

Human life continues to be beaten and exploited today in the many faces we see in our living and mission spaces. In the XVIII General Chapter, we renewed our commitment to enter "into a process of spiritual renewal and transformation of our life and structures, especially of our mental schemes, to face the present challenges of the mission and to respond to the signs of the times." (In Word and Deed (iwd) 6, 3) What are the steps, signs, and fruits of this process? Do we feel closer to the reality of those who need it most?

A second reason is found in the context of the witnessing Church in which Archbishop Romero was a participant and architect within an oppressive system. He manifests it himself when he states: "We know that every effort to improve a society, especially when that injustice and sin is so deeply rooted in it, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”  Next to Oscar Romero, there was a multitude of witnesses, lay and consecrated, professionals and peasants, men and women who were developing and nurturing a witnessing church. They were people and communities of faith who were willing to give their lives to achieve justice. As a good pastor, Romero raised the banner of human dignity above so many signs of abuse and death: "If I denounce and condemn injustice, it is because it is my obligation as pastor of an oppressed and humiliated people.

As Divine Word missionaries, we walk alongside numerous lay people who, living situations of marginalization and abuse, have shouldered the mission of living a new humanity. How do we obey the call "to learn from the example of Christ's emptying of himself in obedience, even unto death on the cross, and to deny ourselves to carry out our mission of proclaiming the Good News and giving witness to our faith?" (iwd 6, 10)

Another reason for Oscar Romero's paradigmatic testimony is the faithful observance of God's will, the result of which cannot be other than prophecy. Romero's personality denotes a reliable observer of 'what God commands.' Outwardly we see him doing that as one of his contemporaries, but with the enormous difference of having learned from Jesus not to keep the letter of the Law, but to return the spirit to the will of God. "It is not a privilege for the Church to be at ease with the powerful. This is the privilege of the Church: to feel that the poor feel it as theirs, to feel that the Church lives in an earthly context, calling everyone, even the rich, to be converted and saved through the world of the poor, because only they are the blessed."

Romero becomes the faithful observer because he tuned in to God's voice from the vulnerability of the most disadvantaged ('I heard the cry... I have come down to set you free...' Ex 3). His words echoed in the heart of the oppressed people, and his speeches and gestures became real prophetic manifestations. Far from being a rhetoric of rebellion or disenchantment or despair, his messages had a transforming effect on the people. "It is inconceivable that one should say 'Christian' to someone and not make, like Christ, a preferential option for the poor.”

Our religious 'observance,' in the full sense of the word, when it is authentic, is consequently prophetic. Authenticity comes to us from the Word of God as a spiritual foundation. "... the Word urges us that our missionary commitment be to put the last in the first place. The emphasis on missionary service to the poor is not an option since this is where we find the presence of the Word in the world. This mission is non-negotiable." (iwd 6, 42) Faithful to the Word, united to the people.

How Archbishop Romero ends up offering his life is also paradigmatic. His final witness is given in the context of the Eucharistic celebration. It is not by chance that the assassins shot the bishop while he was celebrating Mass. For them, it was perhaps the most opportune and particular moment. Not knowing that, for Romero, it was the noblest act that crowned his shepherding as a path of total dedication to the service of the life of the people.

As a consequence of his prophetic observance, Romero shared Jesus' Passover as a valid "Eucharist." We, the Divine Word Missionaries, bear "a name by which we feel especially committed to the Divine Word and his mission. His life is our life; his mission is our mission" (Prologue of the Const.; and iwd 6, 17).  This helps us to grow in Eucharistic spirituality, beyond a routine and comfortable ritualism. Finally, the people recognized him as a man of God before any official proclamation of the Church. It was not vox populi that the Salvadorans claimed 'Santo Subito', but they did recognize in Oscar Romero, in life and after his martyrdom, a man of God. Among the famous phrases of the philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard is the following: "The tyrant dies, and his kingdom ends. The martyr dies, and his kingdom begins."

The testimony of Oscar Romero is a gift of the Spirit to the Church and the world. While the powers with their tyrannies parade through history, destined to be remembered for their destructive signs, the martyrdom of Romero and so many other transforming missionary disciples, remains in the memory of the simplest, of those who continue to cry out and fight for a more human world.

From this most vulnerable corner of humanity, one hears the cry for something new: New is the effort for a path of silent sanctity, more than the noisy praises of the saints... New are the gestures of closeness that recognize the dignity of the poor, more than the precious gifts that submerge them in their misery... New is the process of personal transformation that springs from a converted heart, rather than a heart obfuscated by pretending to transform everything... Father Bishop Oscar Romero, pray for us!

--- Paulus Budi Kleden and the Leadership Team

Posted in the bulletin "Arnoldus Nota" - March 2020