Perhaps there is no more fitting way for us to pay our respects to the Jewish Day of Atonement, than to reflect on the Hebrew prophets' influence on Oscar Romero's theology and preaching. Yom Kippur is celebrated this year on Saturday September 22. The feast commemorates the episode related in the Book of Exodus wherein the Isrealites built a shrine to a golden calf in honor of the Apis bull, thereby engaging in idolatry. After the crisis was mediated by Moses, it was engrained in the annals of Jewish history as the "Chet ha'Egel" or "The Sin of the Calf."
In his sermon of February 24, 1980 -- given exactly one month before his martyrdom -- Archbishop Romero states that, "one of the services that the Church is providing today is to unmask idolatries: the idolatry of money, the idolatry of power, the pretense to keep men on their knees before those false gods." In this perspective, Archbishop Romero was powerfully driven by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. The previous Sunday, March 17, Romero had preached: "How awesome are the prophets when they denounce those who annex house to house and conjoin property with property and become the owners of the entire country!" The clear reference to Isaiah 5:8 reveals the Scriptural underpinnings of a man who has been himself called a "modern prophet," who heard in the voice of Christ preaching the Beatitudes, "the accent of the prophets of the Old Testament." (March 17 Sermon.)
Romero explained the pertinancy of the Old Hebrew texts to 20th Century El Salvador:
The impovireshed majorities of our country find the voice of the prophets of Israel in our Church. There are those among us who sell the just for money and the poor for a pair of sandals, as stated by the prophets (Amos 2:6-7,8). Those who stack violence and deprivation in their palaces, those who squash the poor, those who make a reign of violence approach while they lie in marble beds, those who join house to house and annex field to field in order to occupy the entire place and have the country all to themselves. These texts of the prophets are not distant voices that we read reverently in our liturgy, they are the daily realities whose cruelty and intensity we live day to day.In fashioning his responses to these "daily realities," Archbishop Romero drew on Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, Amos and Micah as much as he drew on the Second Vatican Council and the social teaching of the Popes. The legacy of the Hebrew prophets over Archbishop Romero is made manifest today in the instinctive attraction that Romero's ministry has for the delegations of American Jewish World Service students who have made Ciudad Romero a mecca for exploring their relationship between Judaism and the developing world.
An expert in the Old Testament said a few days after Archbishop Romero's assassination that Biblical Israel had eight great prophets and that, in our days, Archbishop Romero would be one of them. On this Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, we meditate upon Archbishop Romero's fidelity to the Hebrew prophets:
It is wise to read the Old Testament, to read, above all, the prophets and to hear in the tenor of the prophets the severe reprimands, the calls to order that the prophets made, even to the kings, to the rulers, to the wealthy, to those who abused and who trampled their people. 'You are the cause of God's breaking His alliance with this nation,' the prophets said to them, and they called to repentance. 'Convert, renew yourselves." (Jan. 1, 1978 Sermon.)
Romero believed that Christ's mission resumed that call to repentance and reconciliation, and that his ministry was the echo of that call to repentance: "Convert yourselves, be faithful to the alliance of your Baptism, be faithful to your Lord!" (Id.).