On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down as he celebrated Mass. A week later, on Palm Sunday, he was buried. Romero is a fascinating figure, a leader in the Latin American church who rejected liberation theology, only to become the face and voice of the poor and marginalized in his country of El Salvador. Romero was caught between a violent ideological struggle between left and right, one that left death and suffering in its wake. Justice and liberation, for Romero, could never simply be an ideology, it was grounded in the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. Romero’s transformation from traditional Catholic priest to saint was the result, not of politics, but the undeniable call of Jesus Christ to a new life of scandalous love. Romero provides an example for the North American church during this time of crisis and ideological division. The gospel does not call us to chase after security, it calls us to follow the one who comes riding on a donkey, on his way to the cross. The gospel calls us to experience the kingdom of God in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. The gospel calls us to a radical way of love that transforms this world of violence and fear. What follows is part of a homily given by Saint Oscar Romero on Palm Sunday, April 8, 1979.

In the first place, I look at all of you and then at myself, and I feel that I am part of this multitude that twenty centuries ago went out to meet this God who came to save the people in the course of history. Twenty centuries ago the people of Jerusalem, young men and women and children, cut branches from the trees and went out to meet the Lord. This was a people that had lost their unity and independence. They were poor and their religiosity had become distorted. Throughout the history of Israel there was, however, a small group that was always saved. The Bible refers to this group as the remnant of Israel. This remnant reveals the mystery of the salvation that God offers and from this remnant comes forth the Son of David who today is acclaimed: Blessed is he who comes! Hosanna to the Son of David !

In our procession from the Church of El Calvario, we remembered that throughout human history there have always been people, like ourselves, protagonists, who go out to meet Jesus…Those who went to meet Jesus twenty centuries ago were people of their time; they brought with them the history of their people — the frustrations and the hopes of Israel. Today, we the people of El Salvador have our own history and we are not just some people in general, but each one of us as an individual is this people. We know that Christ is ‘my’ Redeemer, as well as the Redeemer of all people. I feel that this procession highlights the words of the Puebla document, describing the face of the Latin American people...

They include the faces of the indigenous people, and frequently Afro-Americans, living marginalized lives in inhuman situations who can be considered the poorest of the poor. The faces of the peasants — as a social group, they live in exile almost everywhere on our continent, deprived of land, caught in a situation of internal and external dependence, and subjected to systems of commercialization that exploit them. The faces of labourers, who frequently are ill-paid and who have difficulty in organizing themselves and defending their rights. The faces of marginalized and overcrowded urban dwellers, whose lack of material goods is matched by the ostentatious display of wealth by other segments of society. The faces of the underemployed and the unemployed, who are dismissed because of the harsh exigencies of economic crises, and often because of development models that subject workers and their families to cold economic calculations

Christ has conquered his humiliation and has not failed. The cross is the way to glorification and this is the hope that I place before you for your reflection during this Holy Week. In her ministry, the Church wants to make the hearts of all people monuments of hope. For this reason the Church cannot support those forces that place all their trust in violence. The Church does not want the liberation that she preaches to be confused with liberations that are merely political and worldly. Yes, the Church is concerned about worldly liberation and is pained by the fact that people suffer and are illiterate and do not have a roof over the heads or a room. Yet she knows that human misfortune is not the only disgraceful situation that confronts humanity. Deep within the hearts of men and women is the reality of sin. Thus the Church supports all the just demands of humankind, especially those that will allow people to free themselves from the chains of sin and death and hell. The Church also encourages people to work for that true freedom that begins within the heart of the person — the freedom of the children of God, that which makes us children of God and destroys the chains of sin. This will enable us to celebrate together the joy of our Easter.

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