Lately when you read the news about the Catholic Church, it’s really bad. But on October 15, the Pope canonized a truly remarkable person, Oscar Romero. This is a saint whose life you should study, even if you aren’t Catholic.
Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born on August 15, 1919, in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. His dad taught him to be a carpenter, but he chose to become a priest. As a child, he would take a paintbrush dipped in water and sprinkle the other kids to bless them. After he finished studying in Rome, he came back home to El Salvador to minister to the people.
He became a monseñor, and he started editing the archdiocesan newspaper. The paper was conservative, and most people thought Romero was, too. He refused to be involved in politics, saying he was neither left nor right. However, he was chosen to be the archbishop because the Vatican thought he was conservative. His superiors in the Church were on the side of the government and the USA.
Now let’s back up and look at the history of El Salvador. Since the Spanish invaded and colonized El Salvador, the country has had a strong Catholic identity. Interestingly, it was another priest, José Matías Delgado, who called for Central American independence in 1811, paving the way for El Salvador’s independence in 1821.
The people are mostly mestizos, or mixed race. They come from the indigenous people, who successfully fought off the Spanish for a while, and the Spanish colonists. Coffee has been the traditional cash crop, and an oligarchy referred to as the “Fourteen Families” formed. The income inequality was terrible, and most people were poor. Uprisings of the oppressed were brutally squelched. Elections were rigged for candidates in favor of the rich and the USA. The CIA funded candidates who they considered to not be Communists because they said they were afraid of the domino effect.
The CIA also funded and trained El Salvadoran death squads in places like the School of the Americas. The death squads tortured, murdered, and mutilated thousands of people, terrorizing the populace into submission. Anyone who spoke out about the governmental corruption was a potential victim, and that included priests and nuns. Opposition groups formed and El Salvador got a junta in 1979.
Romero was made archbishop during the chaos leading up to the junta because the Vatican thought he would uphold their position. At first he did. He had a nice place to live and he kept to himself mostly, except for his preaching, which was growing in popularity. When it came to commenting on the violence, he kept out of people’s way and preached about peace.
That changed in March of 1977, when one of Romero’s friends, a priest named Rutilio Grande, was shot to death by government thugs. Grande was considered a Communist because he expected things like, priests living in the communities they served. He thought pastors should do more than just bless people. According to Grande, the Church needed to take seriously what Jesus said: “Faith without works is dead.” Grande believed the Church should help the poor people empower themselves. This type of belief is called liberation theology.
Romero didn’t consider himself to be a liberation theologist, but the death of his friend hit him hard and made him rethink his actions. He knew it would probably cost him his life, but he did it anyway. He moved into a room at a hospital run by nuns and immersed himself in the lives of the people. Military men came to him and asked him what they should do because they were being ordered to kill their fellow countrymen. He struggled with what to tell them. If they refused orders, they faced death.
During this time, the press in El Salvador was controlled by the government. The Salvadoran mainstream media was taking the side of the rich and powerful, so the populace was left in the dark about what was happening. Romero set up a radio station and became a citizen journalist. He did his best to make his reports unbiased and called them “Facts of the Week.” Though the violence was being mostly perpetrated by forces working for the government, Romero also criticized the opposition groups when they committed atrocities. He got a lot of death threats.
They blew up his radio station, but he kept on going with a makeshift setup. His homilies were enormously popular, and most of the people were listening. He told the military that they should follow their consciences and put down their arms. Romero told them that “No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.”
The next day he was shot at the pulpit while delivering a sermon for a funeral, something he did too often.
Samuel was both a lawyer and a doctor in El Salvador. Right now he’s working in a restaurant in the US. He came here to get a law or medicine degree so that he could practice in the US. And though he says he has the proper documents to study stateside, the universities won’t accept them. He’s not the only one with this type of problem. Because of governmental instability, the document issue can be a tangled web.
I asked Samuel about Oscar Romero. He said that:
Monseñor Romero loved all the people and wanted to empower the people. In 1980, the government was right wing and supported by the rich and the Catholic Church. They made it out to be political, but it wasn’t. Monseñor Romero just wanted to help the poor people. When the Pope came to visit, the government showed him around and told him everything was fine, and he accepted that.”
I asked Samuel if he remembered the war. He said that after Romero was killed, people called him a martyr. He told me about a massacre, of which there were several, at a park in San Salvador in which 500 people died. “In the 1980s, there were lots of bodies.”
He also said that groups on both sides of the war received money for guns from the good ole USA. The US funding both sides of a war? Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah. Syria, along with many others, I have no doubt.
Samuel’s thoughts on the Catholic Church are complex. He thinks that “religion is fine, but not all people are.” He says that most talking about the canonization are making it political, including the Pope, but it should be about the people of El Salvador. “Monseñor was a problem for the military, and that’s why they killed him. Right, left, middle — it’s a cancer. Many innocent people died, and right now the problem is the same.”
I have to agree with him, not just because he’s actually from El Salvador, but also because, from the information I’m finding, it’s looking like the US never stopped interfering with his country. WikiLeaks has documents of the CIA front group USAID hanging around in 1979 and 2009. I told Samuel that this is so reminding me of Nicaragua, and he nodded his head in agreement.
Maras (gangs) are warring in the densely populated country, giving it the highest murder rate in the world. Apparently, drug cartels like the Sinaloa, which has shady ties to the CIA also, are using the maras in El Salvador to traffic drugs. Funny money. Black ops. You know the pattern if you’ve looked into it enough.
And this brings us to the immigration issue again. How can you expect people to not run for their lives when their country has been destabilized by greater powers than itself? People talk about the border problem, but they don’t talk about why there are problems at the border.
I hope that the Pope making Oscar Romero a saint will awaken our world to the problems El Salvador faced then and still faces now.
Samuel put it very well, I think. “The milagro — what’s the word in English? — miracle. The miracle is that people are now talking about it.”
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This is in response to Fair Dinkum’s question. [Wordpress is acting up again today, so the comment is not cued to the one it was in reply to.]
If Francis gets his way, we’ll see that happen pretty soon, too. When asked about Rutilo Grande, this is what Francis said (as reported in The Atlantic, “The Martyr and the Pope”):
“Pope Francis, greeting pilgrims from El Salvador in the fall of 2015, went off script to speak candidly about Romero’s posthumous ordeal, making clear that he laid the blame for the long delay not on Central American despots but on princes of the Church, whom he placed among Romero’s persecutors: “He was defamed, slandered, soiled—that is, his martyrdom continued even by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate.”
He went on to lament that the same posthumous fate had been suffered by Rutilio Grande, the Jesuit organizer of poor agricultural workers whose murder in 1977 prompted Romero to commit his life to social justice. Asked once about prospects for Romero’s canonization, Francis had said, “Yes, yes, yes … And right after that comes Rutilio Grande.” Typically, a candidate for sainthood must be associated with miracles. Francis responded to that notion in a brief encounter with Grande’s biographer two years later. He said, “Rutilio Grande’s great miracle is Óscar Romero.””
That a pope can make such a statement at all is a miracle in itself.
The legacy of the fascist and paedophile priest protector, Wojtyla.
Thank you for your clarification Vaska 😌
An excellent article.
The CIA’s “domino theory” was long ago shown quite clearly to have been simply a nonsense rationalization for our violence and interventions since the fall of the Soviet Union left no threats of “communist” alternative for the world’s poor. Strangely, however, even without the threat of “world communist domination” to fuel policy – the U.S. has continued to support only the oligarchs, their militaries and their death squads in an effort to control the resources and peoples of Latin America.
The interests of the common people of Latin America are of no more concern to U.S. policy makers than the interests of poor Americans are. Hillary Clinton sanctified the overthrow of Honduran democracy as Obama’s Secretary of State – as the president was too “progressive” with his calls to improve the life of the poor – with the result being that Honduras has now been rendered into yet another hell hole of violence and hopelessness and refugees. In other words – just the sort of place U.S. elites love to invest in because it is ripe for exploitation.
Efforts to destabilize democracy in Nicaragua continue, as do efforts to topple the government in Venezuela. Meanwhile the “death-squad-democracy” in Colombia gets full U.S. support allowing it to keep terrorizing it’s own population and killing it’s labor organizers with impunity. This is what constitutes – “stability” – in U.S. policy jargon.
The Catholic church in Latin America meanwhile sides with the torturers and murderers hired by the oligarchs, as it always has. The sexual abuse scandals are not the only moral blot on Mother church. Yet the tortured corpses of countless poor across Latin America seem unable to prick the conscience of the Vatican to change policy or offer mea culpas. How strange.
Also strange is how the U.N., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and all the rest of the oh so humanitarian Western bodies never seem to get around to calling out the U.S. for our role in decade upon decade of the ongoing mayhem in Latin America. No real international condemnation. Certainly no Western sanctions, economic or otherwise. Only some occasional expressions of concern for suffering of the poor in Latin America as if no one knew the context and the reasons for such suffering. But of course who has time to be concerned about the poor in Latin America when there are oil rich secular nations in the Middle East to be destabilized, destroyed and plundered for refusing to bow to Washington and Western economic interests. One could be forgiven for thinking that colonialism never died – it simply rebranded itself as the unholy marriage of both economic “neoliberalism” and uber-violent “American exceptionalism.”
OSCAR ROMERO: ROME’S POLITICAL “MARTYR IN A NEW LIGHT”
Liberation theology needed a “saint”: someone who could be upheld as a “Christian” example to follow. Rome has always made much use of men as rallying points for the masses, who give a human face to the “cause” and inspire the masses to follow blindly wherever Rome says they must go. And to find just such a man to be the face of liberation theology was very easy: Oscar Romero, the murdered archbishop of San Salvador.
The irony is that oppression created the Christian Faith.
Oscar Romero, as depicted here was a true hero of common folk, siding with them rather than with the evil and corrupt forces of darkness that oppress them, these totalitarian bullies who rape, loot and murder whilst parroting platitudes about freedom and democracy. There is a positive and a negative to everything, including the Catholic Church which currently suffers from the corruption and perversion that is inherent within its ranks either in potentiality or in actuality as is the case with any type of organisation that is able to use power, wealth and privilege to protect its own interests, rather than the interests of all concerned – and I mean here the interests of the entire human race, each person of which is entitled, by rights, to the same benefits enjoyed by their overlords, who survive like parasites upon the blood sweat and tears of the serfdom. The United States of America, a great nation of creative, resourceful peoples, has become the Divided States of America precisely as a result of the mischiefs committed by a so many of its administrations, ever since the great crimes of the summer of 1945, and, some seven decades later, by means of a ruthless maintenance of its hegemony has now become so steeped in arrogance that it considers itself the most exceptional power on earth, immune from the very laws that it imposes on its colonies worldwide. However, we are rapidly reaching the critical point for humanity and its environment at which a tremendous paradigm change is taking place. Mother Earth is protecting herself by inflicting heavy retribution in respect of the way she, too, has been raped and spoilt ever since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. Exactly how far have we come in 200 years ? We have come to the point where people are gradually awakening to their true nature and no longer are prepared to have their voices silenced.
Shijo, and faith is the remedy for all those ills. The faith which people developed during the so-called Axial Age (the 1,000 years which saw the emergence of the Buddha, the Hebrew prophets including Christ, Graeco-Roman Philosophy and Islam). This faith is still working, embodied in millions of good people, in the good which the various religious bodies and philanthropic institutions do (in spite of apparatchniks), and in the inspiration of a few shining stars which the Church call saints (and lay people today call role-models?).
“The aim of civilization is neither gas nor nuclear nor renewables, civilization is neither plumbing nor wireless communication nor computers. Civilization is the diminution of original sin”. — Charles Baudelaire.
The Axial Age, a term proposed by the German anti-Nazi philosopher Karl Jaspers, ended some 200 years before the Christian era. Its end predated Islam by about 900 years.
“The rough date range provided by Jaspers was 800 BCE to 200 BCE. ”
Thanks for setting me right, Vaska, Having read his little book “The Great Philosophers” I mistakenly thought The Axial Age covered a period of moral development from Buddha to Augustine, roughly 500BC to 500AD. Must re-read my favourite modern philosopher — and this time, pay attention!
And Rutlio Grande’s sainthood?
Along with the thousands who fought against repression?