March 24, 2020 — Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination and martyrdom of St. Oscar Romero, renowned archbishop of San Salvador and outspoken advocate for justice during El Salvador’s civil war.
For St. Romero, it was a long road from the comforts of clericalism to death at a gunman’s hand. To the elites of El Salvador, Oscar Romero was seen as a safe choice for archbishop, someone who would maintain the status quo: protecting the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.
But three weeks after his appointment as archbishop, Romero experienced a moment of conversion. His friend and Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, SJ, was brutally murdered by government-backed paramilitary forces, making him the first priest killed in the Salvadoran civil war.
Romero was deeply affected by his death. Grande’s martyrdom in 1977 set Romero on the path that three years later resulted in his own violent murder.
St. Oscar Romero’s witness to living out the preferential option for the poor challenges us today. But, for so many of us quarantined at home, what can we make of Romero’s example in our new, lived reality?
We are all called to constant conversion. Each moment invites us to recommit ourselves to the Gospel call to love our neighbors, to bring about God’s dream of a just and peaceful world.
But, like Romero when he began his ministry, it’s easy to grow complacent. It’s easy to block out the suffering in our world, to ignore the needs of so many of our global family.
Faced with the threat of COVID-19, we find ourselves in a moment of solidarity. None of us are strangers to suffering, panic, confusion and death.
Romero’s conversion moment was spurred by the death of his dear friend. Let us, too, be spurred to our own conversion moments as we bear witness to the suffering of so many. Following St. Romero’s example, let us recommit ourselves to the just, peaceful world of which God dreams.
Let us pray:
St. Oscar Romero, you witnessed suffering and death in your native land of El Salvador. We, too, are witnessing suffering and death in our homelands. The novel coronavirus has reminded us once again that we are all vulnerable. We are all in need of one another. We are all called to respond. By your example, show us how to embrace this moment of solidarity, and — when it inevitably ends — to hold in our hearts the suffering of so many so that we may commit to alleviating the suffering of all. Amen.
Eric Clayton is the Senior Communications Manager for Ignatian Spirituality and Vocation Promotion at the Jesuit Conference. He is an adjunct professor of Mass Communication at Towson University, and has worked with numerous faith-based organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Sisters of Bon Secours.