Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Blessed Romero, Witness to Freedom


Bl. Romero in Washington, D.C. during the 1950s.

#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has included Blessed Oscar Romero amongst the fourteen “Witnesses to Freedom” it wishes to highlight during this year’s Fortnight for Freedom.  The Fortnight for Freedom is a campaign to foster religious liberty and defend the right of religious institutions and religious faithful to exercise their freedom of conscience in contemporary American society.

The other “Witnesses to Freedom” include the Little Sisters of the Poor, who fought back against the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, whose relics are touring the U.S. this summer, alongside a mix of ancient and modern saints such as Sts. Peter and Paul; St. John the Baptist, Sts. Felicity and Perpetua, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Edith Stein, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and Bl. Miguel Pro.

While some progressives dismiss Fortnight as a conservative excess of the USCCB, there is a case to be made for Blessed Romero as a “Witness to Freedom” in the religious liberty mold.  Central to this case are the facts that Romero fought back against government attacks on the Church; while he favored a fairer distribution of wealth, Romero did not promote statism; and Romero generally wanted to restore a “Christian civilization” to generate civic virtue and promote humanistic values in society.  In these general parameters, Romero is credible as the type of “Witness to Freedom” that the USCCB seeks to promote.

First, Romero obviously fended off a vicious campaign of persecution against his Church.  But the persecution Romero resisted was not limited to the obvious killing of priests who defended the poor.  Romero accused the government of persecution for liberalizing abortion restrictions against the Church’s staunch opposition (October 2, 1977 sermon) and he likened abortion to state repression (June 17, 1979 sermon).

Second, Romero wanted a more just distribution of wealth in El Salvador.  But he sought to accomplish that mostly by having the government retreat—“Stop the repression” and stop being an enforcer of the unjust economic politics and the hired thugs of the oligarchy.  While Romero favored land reform and other specific measures, he cautioned that even urgently needed reforms would be meaningless if they came “stained with blood” (March 23, 1980 sermon).

Third, Romero believed that the Salvadoran people—the faithful, Christian Salvadoran people—would be their own saviors.  The demands of the people are just and we must continue to defend social justice and love for the poor,” he said to the reformers.  But if we truly love the people and if we attempt to defend the people, then we cannot take away that which has the greatest value, namely, their faith in God, their love for Jesus Christ, and their Christian sentiments.”  (January 13, 1980 sermon.)

In this sense, Blessed Romero stands on a par with St. Thomas More, whose relics will tour various U.S. cities as part of the Fortnight campaign this year.  St Thomas’ martyrdom reminds us what can happen when the state seeks to dominate religious belief and reshape it to its own ends, to its own selection of values,” the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, said earlier this year.  When observance of those particular values becomes absolute requirements,” he warned, “then we are on a path of confrontation.”

Blessed Romero would agree with that.  It is clear that when the freedom of the Church is respected and civil authority serves the interests of the common good, then there will be no conflict between Church and state,” said the Salvadoran martyr.  This is the freedom that the Church requests and her freedom will never be used for subversion or to oppose any legitimate authority but rather will respect and collaborate with every legitimate authority but always on behalf of the people that the Church and the state must serve.” (October 7, 1979 sermon.)

See also: Romero and the F4F (2013)

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