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John 20:19-31
Oscar Romero

Welcome to our exploration of Hazardous Saints: Christians who risked all and changed everything. We begin by looking South – to El Salvador. Oscar Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios in 1917. As a youngster he was apprenticed to a carpenter before entering seminary. Once ordained he served in El Salvador and, in 1977 was appointed Archbishop.

The powers that be in Rome, assumed Romero was a ‘safe’ choice for this role. After all, Romero was not one to ‘stir the pot’. He did not believe it was appropriate to mix church and politics rather, for him, Church was about the personal piety of its members. Thus, it was assumed his approach would keep the Church out of the tumultuous events plaguing the country at the time.

On the other hand, his close friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, was far more radical. He established Christian Base Communities or cell churches which encouraged critical examination of Scriptures around priorities of justice. Through these types of communities, people were taught that God has a preferential option for the poor and that the marginalisation and violence to which they were being subjected was not God-ordained. This work was viewed with suspicion by those in power. On March 12, 1977, Fr. Grande was murdered because of his activism.

We know that there are moments in our lives that can have a transformative impact. We hear the story of Thomas the Doubter every year. His name bears the reminder of his failure to believe the disciples’ story and his willingness to not ‘stir the pot’ and focus on personal piety. Still, we know there is more to Thomas’ story. When face to face with Jesus, he offered the first bold proclamation of faith following the resurrection as he said: “My Lord and My God”! My Lord and My God! That is a profound claim! In it we can acknowledge that the Spirit working in Thomas made this moment transformative for him. This is moment Thomas becomes a voice that echoes throughout the story of the Church!

Likewise, the Spirit worked in Oscar Romero through the death of his friend so that this moment became transformative for him. Romero knew his friend to be a man of deep faith and conviction about what the Church is called to do and be in light of the Gospel. Those convictions inspired those whom Grande was called to serve. That work led to his death and sparked a flame in the heart of Oscar Romero.

Driven by the gifts of the Spirit, Romero led the faithful in active, prophetic resistance. He became known as a pastor to the poor and oppressed, empowering them to become microphones in the cause of justice. As he once said: I want to support what is good, applaud it, encourage it, console the victims of atrocities, of injustice, and also with courage disclose the atrocities, the tortures, the disappearances of prisoners, the social injustice. This is not engaging in politics; this is building up the Church and carrying out the Church’s duty as imposed by the Church’s identity. (Sept. 10, 1978)

Through the Holy Spirit, the fire ignited in Romero spread to the people. This made him dangerous. On March 24, 1980, an assassins bullet took the life of Oscar Romero as he presided over worship. Yet, his earlier words have proven true: “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will live on.”

The Spirit continues to work in and through the story of Oscar Romero. In 2015 he was made a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2016, our own diocesan synod sent a request to the national synod to include Oscar Romero in our annual observances. He is currently included in the list of modern-day martyrs.

Oscar Romero may not have started out as a particularly hazardous saint. It was his willingness to allow the Spirit working in him through his friend and through the people that ignited his spark and transformed his God-given gifts into something that became truly meaningful for the Church and the wider community. His courage serves as a reminder that God loves all people, with a special heart for those who are marginalised. In him, we are challenged to use our God-given gifts to create spaces of justice and hope. In him, we are reminded that being the Church includes ‘stirring the pot’ and speaking up about injustice. In him, we are challenged to remain open to the possibilities of God working in us because any moment can be a moment of profound transformation!

In our desire to enable the Holy Spirit to continually work in and through us and transform us, let us pray for justice as we sing: (VT) 392 The Church of Christ Cannot be Bound