In this week’s blog Fr Paddy calls us to be open to what is genuinely possible for us to do in our own daily lives, on this the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist Papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 7th April 2010

On 24th March, thirty years ago now, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was celebrating Mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital. The chapel was situated very near the simple home where he lived. During the Mass, at 6.25 pm local time, a lone gun man entered the chapel and killed the Archbishop with a single shot. Archbishop Romero fell to the ground and beneath the large crucifix that was hanging behind the altar. The killer was a professional hit man carrying out a contract killing. It was the eve of Holy Week when the Church worldwide commemorates the mystery of its own life and in a small and economically poor country we had heard proclaimed anew:

A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends

Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977, because he was a conservative and Rome did not want to appoint the more radical and desired candidate of very many. However, a month after his appointment something happened that was to have a profound effect on Romero. A Jesuit friend, Rutilio Grande, was murdered on his way to celebrate evening Mass. Grande was murdered because he was a great champion of the rural poor. When he saw his dead friend, and the old man and teenage boy killed with Rutilio because they were travelling together to the Mass, he began to pray. As he did so, he also began to think about conversations where Rutilio tired to persuade him about the need to be more public on the side of the poor. A dramatic conversion happened to Romero through all of this and people noticed it.

Romero was a truly great Christian, and is recognised as such by the great majority of his people, and by people all around the world. But in the eyes of many powerful people to be a great Christian is to be a great threat to them. It is imperative, therefore, that we allow the gracious love of God to deepen in ourselves and with each other, and that, like Romero, we really value our friends. Such conversion to God, each other, and our friends is very empowering and a wonderful gift. It prevents us from being paralyzed by fear and panicked by guilt. We are called to self-care, for it would be a contradiction if the God who calls us to struggle against the oppression suffered by others did not want us to care for ourselves. But we are also called to be open to what is genuinely possible for us to do. Oscar Romero underwent a dramatic conversion to the economically poor of his country.

Let us pray, on the thirtieth anniversary of his martyrdom, that we may have his courage to live, even more than we do already, the cost of discipleship of the risen Jesus Christ, and to live it in the context of what is needed and known in our time and place.