BY CHRIS KERR | March 24, 2014
“If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”
This was Archbishop Oscar Romero’s response when asked about the death threats that were often made against him during his short tenure as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, El Salvador. Little did he know that his witness and martyrdom would be inspiration for millions of people over the past thirty four years, and not just the people of El Salvador. Whether you are visiting a campesino family in a Central American village or stopping by a Catholic university’s campus ministry office there’s a good chance you might see an image or quotation of Archbishop Romero hanging on the wall. Even in Rome, Pope Francis is accelerating the canonization process for Archbishop Romero despite critics complaints.
Late last week we put out a call for members of the Ignatian family to offer reflections on how Archbishop Romero has inspired peoples’ passion for social justice. We received responses from all over the country (and more than we could publish!) with the vast majority coming from current students or recent graduates of Jesuit universities who were inspired by Romero because of visits to El Salvador or semesters of study at the Casa de la Solidaridad (CASA). It’s important to note that none of the individuals who submitted reflections were alive in 1980 when Archbishop Romero was murdered. What a statement this makes about the longevity of a counter-cultural approach grounded in life, peace, love and Christ.
Our friends at the CASA sent us this video of a vigil in San Salvador to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s death. Notice the chant of the crowd (which included many young people like the CASA students featured), “La lucha sigue sigue. Romero vive vive.” (Translation: The struggle continues continues. Romero lives lives).
Below are a few of the reflections we received. The simple theme: Romero “vive!”
written by: Kevin Kuehl
After spending a semester in El Salvador with the Casa de la Solidaridad, I came to know Monseñor Romero and his people. His witness and their continued faith moved me to give 2 years of my life as a missionary at the Finca del Niño in Honduras. Reflecting back on the life of Romero, I am most inspired by his voice. Romero was the prophetic voice of truth and the voice of the voiceless (and still is as his words echo into our present reality of violence and injustice). Only a humble servant abandoned to the Holy Spirit could speak words saturated with so much truth, words that challenged lies with love. When I feel inarticulate or lack the courage to speak up for the truth, I ask for the intercession of Monseñor, so that I might have the humility to let God speak His Word into the world.
Kuehl is a 2011 graduate of Georgetown University and studied at the Casa de la Solidaridad in 2010.
written by: Matthew Ippel, nSJ
Romero vive! Romero… presente! These words echo the reality that the Salvadoran people continue to experience the presence of Oscar Romero in their daily lives and they continue to be strengthened and encouraged in their struggle towards a more just, peaceful society. According to Father Hernández Pico, SJ, people remember Monseñor Romero’s presence… “that presence, that closeness, that merciful attitude to suffering is what the Salvadoran people remember.” My experience in El Salvador with the Casa de la Solidaridad program confirmed Padre Pico’s words. By living with, accompanying, sharing meals with, and listening to Salvadoran men and women, I encountered Monseñor Romero who has to offer more than what is read in a book or an article about him… I witnessed the radical love of a man who strived to bring about the Kingdom of God through his daily actions, his prophetic words, and the way he loved and cared for his people. In his homily at Mass on October 30, 1977, Romero said that “the pastor has to be where there is suffering.” Romero has inspired me to walk with and share in the sufferings and struggles of others. To extend my hand and, ultimately, my heart to those who experience pain, agony, frustration, and discomfort. Romero has helped me to see what Jesus asked of us to do – that conversion occurs when we allow the cry of the poor and the other to be heard by our heart and we respond by losing ourselves and placing the needs of others at the forefront of our actions.
Ippel is a first-year Jesuit novice studying at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a 2009 graduate of University of Detroit High School and 2013 graduate of Georgetown University.
written by: Lauryn Gregorio
“Cada uno de Ustedes tiene que ser un micrófono de Dios.” Each of you must be God’s microphone. I first heard these words of Monseñor Oscar Romero proclaimed by Oscarito, a child named after Romero whose family I accompanied while studying abroad at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador. It was my first time visiting the community of Mariona, and Oscarito’s family organized a small reflection to welcome me. As I sat on a worn plastic chair in their narrow home, still struggling to comprehend Spanish, these words jumped out at me, and have remained with me since. Each of us is called to be God’s microphone, that is, a voice for the voiceless and a prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God here on earth. It is with deep gratitude that I recollect how my Salvadoran friends and Oscar Romero have modeled this way of being for me—one of love, commitment, community, and solidarity. Although I will likely never be a martyr, I desire to give my whole life to building a more humane and just world for and with the poor and marginalized. The legacy of Monseñor Oscar Romero lives on in the Salvadorans and in me. ¡Romero vive!
Gregorio is will graduate from the University of San Francisco this May. She studied at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador in 2013 and Casa Bayanihan in the Philippines in 2012.
written by: Lisa Cathelyn
When I think of Romero, I think of the word compromiso, or commitment. Romero was unwavering in his dedication to accompaniment and pastoral care of the marginalized in El Salvador. In a time of great repression, he ensured that his voice — as one who amplified the voices and experiences of the poor — was heard. The vision of Romero for a world of equity and dignity is one that compels me to seek justice in all I do.
Cathelyn is a 2013 graduate of Marquette University and studied at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador in 2011.
written by: Erin Mackey
Romero’s acts of solidarity are true inspirations. His simplistic lifestyle, caring for and standing with the poor and deep love of God are manifest through him today. In following the call of the Lord, Romero’s example guides me in my own pursuits of justice, knowing that small acts of solidarity leave lasting impressions.
Mackey is a 2011 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University and studied at the Casa de la Solidaridad in 2009.
written by: Sarah Neitz
The first time I visited Divina Providencia, the chapel where Monsenor was killed, I was so angry. Romero seemed to taunt me with his bold sureness in doing the right thing – why couldn’t I have that same confidence in my actions for justice? After we left, a friend encouraged me to read Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic. The stories that people told introduced me to a different Romero, a Romero who, like me, struggled with how to respond in the face of injustice. But Monsenor never gave up. He kept responding, and as it got more difficult, his commitment to speaking justice for the Church only increased. His belief that a truly grounded spirituality springs forth in justice and solidarity continue to challenge and support me in times when I don’t think I can effect any change.
Neitz is a 2012 graduate of The University of Scranton and studied Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador in 2011. She is currently serving a second year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Detroit, Michigan and served in Albuquerque, New Mexico last year.
written by: Laura Hersheberger
Last summer I quit a job that I had been really excited about because they had some discriminatory practices in place. I was really disillusioned and upset and I had really needed the job. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to stay there even if it meant taking a financial risk. I kept thinking, what would Romero do? He would speak out. He would say what was wrong despite the risk. That’s what he did and how he was killed for it. In that way, he continues to live on just as he said he would. As long as people are inspired to speak out against injustice despite the risk, Romero’s spirit lives on.
Hersheberger is a 2007 graduate of Saint Louis University and studied at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador in 2005.
written by: Sarah Rouhier
“We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.”
― Oscar A. Romero
It was just last March that I retraced the paths of many in El Salvador. Just a little over a year ago today that I discovered amazing works of art- paintings, sculptures, songs, films, graffiti- celebrating the amazing legacy left behind by Archbishop Oscar Romero and others like Rutilio Grande, S.J. I remember being moved by the Holy Spirit to deeply pray and reflect in the cool pews of La Divina Providencia. I remember standing in awe of the simplicity of the small church in El Paisnal. I remember feeling the weight of injustice on my shoulders- even if the people I empathized with were from a different county, different culture, and different generation than myself. Solidarity works across all boundaries, and that message of solidarity and humility, to me, is the most inspiring message left by Oscar Romero. Only through our humility can we create positive social change. Romero knew that even though he was in a position of power that did not make him any more worthy of God’s love than anyone else. It is so easy for us to judge and look down on our fellow humans, but as long as we hold onto that notion that some people are better and holier than others we are incapable of practicing love in the way God calls us to.
Rouhier is a 2013 graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University
written by: Irene Koo
I understand strong leadership to be a necessary aspect of successful social justice movements. For any social justice issue, I think it is especially important for leaders to be passionate and unafraid to challenge the status quo. There is dignity and strength in humility, and in having the ability to cooperate with those who have different views. However, equally important and definitive is the conviction to refuse. The challenge of being a leader lies in recognizing this nuance – knowing when to concede and when, no matter the consequence, to say enough is enough. I am continually inspired by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who worked tirelessly against the horrific injustices against the poor in El Salvador. Having recently visited El Salvador, I was able to see Romero’s deeply palpable and enduring impact throughout the country, as his mission continues to inspire the Salvadoran people in their contemporary struggles against oppression. Called the “Voice of the Voiceless,” Romero spoke out against the military junta’s human rights violations and called international attention to the thousands of deaths and disappearances perpetrated by the paramilitary forces. Refusing to back down, even after threats on his life, Romero inspired many through his faith, commitment to the people, and eventual martyrdom at the start of the civil war. As he stated before his death, “Si me matan, resuscitaré en el pueblo salvadoreño.” On the anniversary of his death, I remember not only the sacrifices of Romero, the six Jesuits, and the four nuns, but also the tens of thousands of civilians whose legacies are a reminder of our responsibility to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. Given Archbishop Romero’s example, I am inspired to become ever more informed, faithful, compassionate, and understanding in my work towards positive change in the world.
Koo is a member of the Class of 2016 at Georgetown University.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.