JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
|The Nicaraguan bishops lead a popular movement.|
While the Universal Church awaits the date of the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was once accused of meddling in politics, several churches of the Americas have taken up a proactive role in the politics of their respective nations, from the abortion policy in Argentina to the immigration policies of Donald Trump in the USA. The trend appears at a time not only when Romero’s star is on the rise, but also under a Pope—Francis—who requests greater commitment from his pastors. Not only are the churchmen highlighted below following in Romero’s footsteps; all of them acknowledge being inspired by him in their struggles, without regard to whether their action is seen to favor the Left (USA, El Salv.) or the Right (Nic., Arg.).
Perhaps there is no better example of the Romeroesque Church than the episcopal conference of Nicaragua, led by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua and the audacious auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Baez, who is often compared with Romero, and whose admirers have pledged to defend and protect him. The entire conference has taken the lead in Nicaraguan society to remove from power the strongman Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista leader who originally came to power to end the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 70s and is now accused of plotting to impose his own family dynasty.
The power to summon of the Nicaraguan Church was made clear when its demonstrations filled the streets of Managua with an outpouring of humanity that made one think of the “People Power” of Corazon Aquino against Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines of the 1980s. As already mentioned, the auxiliary bishop is a Romeroesque figure and in fact an open admirer of the martyr from the neighboring country (El Salvador borders Nicaragua). On several occasions, the Nicaraguan bishops have alluded to Romero in their statements, and the specter of Romero is never far from their pronouncements and actions.
Mgr. Silvio Baez cites Romero as a point of reference for the Central American Church in contemporary times. He told Religión Digital: “I would be scared of a Church that did not have prophets, but woe on those whom the Lord calls to be prophets in the Church, because the prophets are unwelcome and uncomfortable, even within the Church,” and he pointed to the fact that Romero was persecuted and misunderstood during his time as proof of it.
In the land of Blessed Romero it would be expected that the episcopate would take up his example. But it has not always been so. In fact, when Pope Francis alluded to the fact that Romero’s martyrdom was prolonged “even by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate,” many took it as a rebuke against the Salvadoran bishops (although, not me). However, Romero’s successor, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, has become a true activist, going as far as to lodge pieces of legislation favored by the Church: this year, against the privatization of water and last year, against metallic mining, even leading a march to the legislative assembly for that purpose.
The exhortations of the archbishop attracted the severe criticism of conservative circles, as the former president of the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), Jorge Daboub, lashed out against Escobar Alas on Twitter. “I had not seen such lack of information, selective blindness and undue ideological influence in the Catholic Church since civil war times,” said the staunch defender of commercial interests. The allusion to the positions of the Church during “civil war times” is an obvious reference to Archbishop Romero without wanting to mention his name—which should be a great tribute to the current archbishop.
In the homeland of Pope Francis, the “village priests” have taken up the heroic effort to stop the legalization of abortion. One of them, perhaps the closest to the then Archbishop Mario Bergoglio, Fr. José María “Pepe” di Paola, has quoted Romero in an appearance before the congress.
“In Latin America, Archbishop Romero’s famous cry of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' still rings out,” Di Paola recalled in his speech, “as he urged the military not to repress its own people.” But Di Paola pointed out that it was not limited to that circumstance, but that “he directed it also against 'that immense sea of ignominy that kills in the womb of the mother' (Romero’s words)”. Fr. di Paola continued: “With the same fervor, in a homily on March 18, 1979, a year before he was killed, Romero added: ' If we feel the repression, because it kills our youth and people who are already grown, it’s the same to take a life in the womb of a woman. That child is a future adult, who, with abortion, is murdered '.”
According to Di Paola, the International Monetary Fund and its preconditions for poor countries to receive financing “has snuffed out the life of Archbishop Romero and of many children in our America. Especially the deepest part of America, the silenced part.”
In the great nation of the north, the bishops have raised their voices against the immigration policies of Donald J. Trump, and among the chorus of protests several Romeroesque voices stand out. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose H. Gomez, whose profile recalls Romero’s background. Coming from Opus Dei, Gomez does not fit the mold of an activist. According to the commentator Thomas J. Reese, S.J., interviewed by the LA Times, Gomez is a “classic pastor”, with a low profile, “he’s a warm person, he’s personable, he wants to be with his people.”
However, Gomez has expanded his defense of immigrants, making a pilgrimage to the US-Mexico border, and celebrating masses in his cathedral dedicated to immigrant families. “In the Church,” Gomez said in his pro-migrant homily at the end of June, “we are God’s people, his family. And he gives us the duty to take care of one another. He calls us to speak out against injustice, to make things right when they are wrong.”
According to the LA Times, Gomez “plays an indispensable role” in the Church on the issue of immigration, and “it would be a big mistake to underestimate Gomez’s influence.” It would also be a mistake to ignore the devotion that Gomez has for Blessed Romero, to whom he has dedicated several masses in the Cathedral of Los Angeles. In a Eucharist for Romero’s Centennial in 2017, Gomez declared that Romero inspired him to work for migrants: “In Blessed Oscar’s name,” said the prelate, “let’s keep pressing for immigration reform—to keep our families together, to give rights to our workers, and to open the way to make new citizens for this great land of ours.”
The spirit of the slogan that was once seen in graffiti around El Salvador—“Romero Lives”—now seems to be increasingly taking hold in his Church.