«THE TRUE PLAN OF LIBERATION»
Politicians who are incapable of bringing about the improvements they promised should step aside and let others try their hand, Archbishop Romero tells us in his March 16, 1980 homily—the second to last Sunday sermon before his martyrdom. Romero directs this message, “To government officials: I see two sectors—those who have good will but cannot do what they want and those stubborn and powerful individuals who are responsible” for the injustice. “To the first I say: make your power felt or confess that you cannot command and unmask those who are doing the country great harm under your protection.” And to the obstructionists, Romero says, “you are performing a sad role of betrayal,” and “in the name of honesty and love of the people,” should “free the hands of those who genuinely want to lead the destiny of our people.”
(This is the second part of a series on the final seven homilies of Archbishop Romero started last year. To read the text of this homily in English, click here. For the original text in Spanish, click here. And, to hear the audio of Msgr. Romero delivering the homily, click here.)
The dual targeting that is evident in Romero’s message—to the reformers and to the obstructionists—pervades all of Romero’s final sermons, but his message to the poor and their champions has been overlooked by his followers. Romero’s criticism of the insurrectional leftist sectors cut so deep that it led notorious Romero critic Mgr. Freddy Delgado to erroneously analyze that the Left was behind Romero’s murder (“Mgr. Romero had betrayed the Communist groups and the cause of Marxism-Leninism. In Communist discipline, this meant the death penalty.”). Preposterous conspiracy theories aside, what does Mgr. Romero say to progressives that is worth recovering from the martyr archbishop’s sermons to the poor? In essence, Romero says: (1) that no reform is worth bloodshed, (2) that reformers are obligated to dialogue with other sectors, and (3) that opposition groups need to mature in the ways of democracy.
“Blood soaked reforms can never produce fruit,” Romero preaches. Even urgent reforms must be put off if they require bloodshed, he maintains. For example, Archbishop Romero believes that, “Land reform is a theological necessity.” But, “Land reform and the nationalization of banks and other promised reforms cannot produce fruit if the bloodshed continues,” he warns. This is true, he says, “even though this blood is not desired by true reformers and even though this bloodshed was caused by the enemies of reform. This is the fundamental thought of my preaching,” he adds for emphasis, and his analysis of current events demonstrates the extent to which Romero is willing to apply the principle of non-violence to avoid bloodshed.
First and foremost, Romero opposes the prospect of a civil war as a means to usher in needed reforms. “I believe that there are other alternatives,” he says, “and I want to say to all my sisters and brothers that we are not pleased to hear this talk about an impending civil war,” because, “there are rational solutions that we must sincerely seek.” Romero also speaks out in favor of the government’s imposing martial law to suppress violence. “The state of siege certainly presents us with some advantages,” he says—because it clamps down on violence from the left and from paramilitary groups of the far-right. “I believe that this is a good step.” Finally, Romero uses his moral authority to dissuade participants in a general strike from allowing it to degenerate to a mêlée: “In the name of the Church and the gospel I plead with both sides to not turn tomorrow’s events into a bloody or violent confrontation that will inflict on us even more tears of mourning.”
In fact, “the object that the Church offers to collaborate in the present crisis in El Salvador” is “the reconciliation of all people in Christ,” Romero states. “The mission of the Church cannot be different because it is the mission that Christ brought to the world, namely, to reconcile all people in Himself.” Romero invokes St. Paul, from the day’s reading (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), who “speaks with the Corinthians in the same way that I am able to speak here with the saints of San Salvador,” he says. “Yes, all of you who have been baptized and who form the People of God are saints,” he continues. “With the words that Saint Paul spoke to the Corinthians I address you and say: God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation.” Romero points out that this essential mission of the Church is of a spiritual nature: “My dear sisters and brothers, members of the Christian communities and especially my beloved priests, Sisters and catechists, let us accustom ourselves to planting the idea that there can be no reconciliation without Jesus Christ.” It is not, in other words—he spells out—a political mission: “let us never try to supplant the political work of women and men with our pastoral work.”
“I am a minister of this Church of reconciliation,” Romero declares, as he invites us to reflect on the Prodigal Son— “the parable of Christian reconciliation” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). “Look at the way in which the left denounces the right! Look at the hatred of the right for the left!,” he points out, noting a pervasive polarization. “We need to tear down the barriers! We need to realize that there is one Father who loves everyone and awaits us all!,” and “We need to learn how to pray the Our Father and say: ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone in debt to us’!” The left is obligated to cooperate as much as the right. “There is nothing more opposed to reconciliation than pride,” he warns, addressing “those who believe they are clean and pure, those who believe they have the right to point to others as the cause of injustice and are unable to look within themselves and see that they also have a role to play in the disorders of the country.” It is wrong for, “People [to] believe that they possess the truth and fault others whom they see as evil,” he says. “Do not allow yourself to think that your way of viewing the country is so distinct that you begin to feel that you are the only person who has a solution to our problems,” he admonishes: “it is necessary that people who hold opposing positions enter into a sincere dialogue ... and seek, as Saint Paul stated, to be reconciled with one another in the name of God.”
He directs “a call to the guerrilla groups:” to accept his call to reconciliation. “God desires that we be reconciled and ... make El Salvador a land of sisters and brothers, all children of one Father who waits for us with outstretched arms,” like the Prodigal Son’s father, he says. “I appeal to you and ask you to understand that nothing violent can be lasting,” he pleads. Insurgents must not lash out against the Church when she criticizes their actions, he says, citing a specific instance: “I want to speak to all the members of political groups and say that priests are serving the ministry of reconciliation and therefore I ask you to respect their work and not expose them to threats and accusations that cannot be proven.” The Church is not “going to meddle in your initiatives but we cannot cease to denounce your injustices.” To their political leadership: “I want to say to you that you are our hope if you continue to mature by opening up and dialoging.”
“I ask,” Romero invites, “that you pay attention to that which is central to the preaching of the pastor and central to the gospel and our catechesis, central to our Lenten call and to the plan of God with regard to the life of each and every person.” And that’s the message that “the reconciliation of all people in Christ [is] the true plan of liberation.”
Art: Mural at the“Mons. Romero Kindergarten,” near the San Francisco de Asís parish in the Cantizano neighborhood of Mejicanos (San Salvador), created by Miguel Vásquez.
NEXT: «Stop the Repression!»
Pope Benedict XVI echoed Romero’s themes, again, in his Lent 2012 statements. In his March 7, 2012 general audience, the Holy Father spoke about “the importance of silence in our relationship with God.” Interpreting the Prodigal Son in his March 16, 1980 sermon, Ab. Romero began: “When dealing with this parable rather than preach I would prefer that we would sit in silence and remind ourselves that this passage is a summary of our own personal, individual lives.” Then he said, “My sisters and brothers, I invite all of you to read this passage in your homes or in a church or in some silent place and reflect on your own life.” For, as Benedict stated, “Silence is capable of excavating an interior space in our inmost depths so that God may abide there, so that his Word may remain in us, so that love for him may be rooted in our minds and in our hearts and animate our lives.”