A New Saint!
On Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 3:30am EST, Blessed Oscar Romero officially became “Saint Oscar Romero!” That weekend at Romero Center Ministries, student groups from Xaverian High School (Brooklyn, NY) and Misericordia University (Dallas, PA) were participating in the Urban Challenge service retreat. As the students and their chaperones joined the local community of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral parish for Mass on Sunday, the congregation was treated to the insights and reflections of our own ministry staff member, Richard Nalen. In a reflection after Communion, Richard recalled the importance of the life of Oscar Romero, and how his witness of living the Gospel in El Salvador almost 40 years ago has inspired our program in Camden, NJ, as guests from across the United States continue to join in our programming. Richard made beautiful connections between the life of Oscar Romero and Fr. Jamie’s homily, which called us to reflect on the many small movements of God in our lives.
Over the last two weeks, Romero Center Ministries was proud to welcome guests from around the area to listen to reflections on the life and impact of St. Oscar Romero. These “Romero Reflections” were held on two separate occasions, one in Spanish and the other in English. The audiences gathered in prayer before talks from Father Rene Canales and Deacon Omar Aguilar, both from Romero’s home country of El Salvador. Deacon Omar recounted coming to the United States as a young man, only to hear news from friends at home about the revitalized faith that Romero was breathing into the country and the people of El Salvador. Father Rene shared his recollections of growing up in El Salvador, and the purely electric way in which Salvadoran’s would burst with joy and hope as they would listen to Romero’s homilies broadcast on the radio. Participatory crowds gathered before the two speakers, extending the events with thoughtful questions and a warm sense of community.
Sainthood: A Call to Authenticity, Participation, & Transformation
Oscar Romero’s canonization provides an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a saint. Saints live exceptional lives of holiness. The call to holiness—that is, our call to sainthood—is a call to authenticity. It is a call to participation. Above all, the call to sainthood is a call to transformation.
A saint ultimately follows God’s call to serve the world in a way that is unique to him or her. St. Oscar Romero is most well-known for being a voice who affirmed the dignity of all people in response to the injustice and violence in his home country of El Salvador during the Cold War.
As Romero’s story demonstrates, heeding God’s call can be challenging. At the naïve age of thirteen, a young Oscar entered the seminary for the first time. However, an illness in his family would call him back home. It was not until fourteen years later that Romero would be ordained a priest. Then, it was twenty-some more years before Romero would begin to express the transformed life that God had been calling him to participate in, all along.
Often, Oscar Romero is portrayed as experiencing a conversion when he learned of the death of his dear friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, SJ, at the hands of a government death squad. However, as an article from the National Catholic Reporter pointed out earlier this month, Romero’s conversion of heart and mind first came as the result of time spent with those who were suffering under the repressive tension caused between the Salvadoran government and the guerilla resistance. Thus, Romero’s “conversion experience” was perhaps not as sudden as Saul on the way to Damascus, but slowly unfolding over the course of his life.
Conversion is a life-long experience. However, some individuals certainly have “AHA!” moments from which their lives take on a new trajectory. Yet, for those of us who are not carried away by sudden gusts of the Spirit, St. Oscar Romero stands as an example of hope. Romero continually discerned God’s efforts to connect with him and lead him to a fuller life. Whether it was joining the seminary at a young age, returning home for the needs of his family, or then re-entering religious life, Romero was open to journey along the difficult paths on which God’s call might direct him. As a rural, parish priest, Romero’s worldview was rearranged as he lived among the oppressed agrarian workers and heard their stories of struggle.
When Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador, he risked losing the perks that his role might entitle—a safe distance from conflict and violence, administrative privilege, and an overall comfortable lifestyle—to follow the will of God. Romero rose as “God’s microphone” to speak for those who suffered the violence which resulted from unjust systems and the undignified treatment of human beings. Oscar Romero would pay the ultimate price, losing his life from an assassin’s bullet. For this, we acclaim Romero as a martyr of immense faith and a champion of social justice.
Yet, Romero’s decision to participate in society in this way was not only for the people and the country of El Salvador. Romero was motivated by an even more inclusive and universal spirit. He acted on behalf of a larger and global consciousness. He knew that the suffering and violence which he witnessed in El Salvador were present throughout the world. He was also aware that the same compassion which welled-up within him was also amassing in the hearts of people around the planet.
“Love,” according to Romero, is “the force that will overcome the world.” Love had overcome Oscar Romero through a lifetime of seeking God. He trusted God to direct him to where he could live the Gospel in the most authentic way, truest to his experience as a human person. He was aware that, while incredibly powerful, this love also took time to build within him. His awareness of God’s love grew to a point where he could consciously express that love through his life and mission. It took time, but he learned to listen and he learned to trust. As a result, Romero’s witness has called countless others to take up the cause of being a voice for the voiceless.
We need to learn how to listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters in-need in our own communities and families, indeed. However, it seems most necessary to first listen to the voice within—the quiet voice of God who calls us to live in a way that is transformed by radical love. Thus, let us also celebrate St. Oscar for his patient trust that God was leading his life in a way that would empower him to lift up the lives of others.
Divine Fire, empower us to speak up and to act on the needs of our world;
ever-mindful of our brothers and sisters without a voice.
May the steadfastness of your Flame remind us to patiently trust
as we brave the road to authenticity, participation, and transformation.
May your Love and your Light well-up in and illuminate our being
and overcome the darkness of isolation and injustice.
Inspire us to create a future marked by awareness and expression
of the radical love and global unity that make us all one.
St. Oscar Romero . . . pray for us!
Saint Oscar Romero Presentations
To honor the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero this October, Romero Center Ministries is excited to offer talks and presentations on Romero’s life and message. We are happy to come to your school, university, or parish to share how the legacy of Oscar Romero lives on and can inspire us to take up the challenge of the Gospel in the modern world. Through St. Oscar’s witness, we will explore how Christ’s call to “love our neighbor” has global implications. Please contact us for more information or to schedule a speaker.
To learn more, you can find our contact information here.