Oscar Romero: A Saint for Our Days

444px-Oscar_Romero_by_puigreixachAs Catholics, we believe that our Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. For many, the shortcomings and failure of our Church leaders to protect the most vulnerable in our communities have undermined that bedrock belief. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, the Holy Spirit has made His presence evident through the timely canonization of Saint Oscar Romero. With Romero’s canonization, the Holy Spirit is lifting for the entire Church a model of Christian leadership that is needed in our Church today.

Most people are familiar with the narrative of Romero’s life. A conservative priest then bishop who had a powerful transformation that led him to become a voice for the poor and marginalized in El Salvador. That transformation is often attributed to the assassination of Romero’s good friend, Father Rutilio Grande. While the event had a significant effect on the new archbishop, Romero’s transformation was rooted in his experience as Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María. This diocese, a poor and rural region, brought Romero in direct contact with the suffering people of El Salvador.

It was in Santa María where Oscar Romero encountered Christ in the suffering and persecuted people to whom he ministered. It was here where he came into contact with the repression and violation of human rights experienced by the farmers under his pastoral care. This closeness with the suffering of his parishioners made him sensitive to the day-to-day needs of the people in El Salvador. Here he learned to listen with the heart and to speak without fear. He learned to accompany the abandoned, the despised, the vulnerable. It was his ability to do these things that made Oscar Romero the archbishop that the people of El Salvador needed.

Today, we are in need of such leaders. Our Church needs leaders who take the time to encounter Christ in those who are suffering, those who are hurting, and those who have been regarded as disposable. Romero, through this encounter, was moved to speak and act on behalf of those on the margins. It was this experience of accompaniment that also fed him the prophetic words that touched the souls of those living through the repression.

Our situation here at home is in no way comparable to the dire situation of El Salvador in the 1980s. However, today we have communities that live in fear. Families that are being separated at our southern border. People fearing for their lives can no longer see the U.S. as a place where they can “breathe free.” In this environment, prophetic voices are needed. These prophetic voices won’t be elevated until all of us–clergy and lay leaders—immerse ourselves in the lives of our brothers and sisters on the margins. Only by going to the margins will we be able to acquire the language of love that can move others to action.

Young people who have come to distrust most institutions are looking for the modern-day Romeros. They want to be inspired by the holiness of this man, and they will only be convinced if you and I decide to imitate Romero. The Holy Spirit has lifted up a saint we desperately need in our Church and world today.

Going Deeper:

Pray with St. Oscar Romero and discern how you can work for justice in your community. Looking for some ways to get involved? Check out these tools and resources that will help in your advocacy with our brothers and sisters on the margins.

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Javier W. Bustamante, Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement, is responsible for implementing, coordinating and supporting a comprehensive program of social, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, governance and community service programs that complement the academic mission of The Catholic University of America. 

 

Accompanying Immigrants in the Archdiocese of Washington

Thousands of immigrants—mostly from Latin America—and their families gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in late 2016 to participate in the annual Walk with Mary celebration. In his homily, the Most Reverend Mario E. Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, echoed the palpable feeling of uncertainty that weighted heavily in the hearts of those in attendance following a vitriolic election season that left many immigrants fearful about their futures. With this in the background, we gathered to place ourselves under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A year later, on December 9, 2017, thousands of immigrants—this time including a significant number of non-Hispanics—at once braved the freezing weather and Walked with Mary. In a celebration that included the recitation of the rosary using seven languages, a special Chinese song dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the recitation of the Universal Prayers in multiple languages, Bishop Dorsonville once again shed light on the plight of immigrants today. Together, close to three thousand immigrants left the Basilica feeling the closeness of God and knowing that their Church stood with them.

To say that 2017 was a difficult year for immigrants would be an understatement. The travel ban, the rescinding of the DACA program, the changing deportation priorities, ending the TPS programs, and the troubling rhetoric that dominated immigration negotiations, all increased the anxiety among immigrants in the United States. Many of our immigrant brothers and sisters in our pews felt some consolation learning that bishops across the country lifted their voices to defend and protect them. But what made the protection of Mary’s mantle truly visible was the pastoral work undertaken at the local level.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, our first response to initial indications of distress in the immigrant community was combating fear with knowledge. Catholic Charities and its partners provided legal clinics in various parishes to teach people about their rights and to explore paths to normalizing their legal status. We also jumped into the V Encuentro process, which sent thousands of Catholics to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the peripheries. It was through these early interactions that we saw distress and anxiety overwhelming immigrant communities. Then, in September, young people became the target of the anti-immigrant sentiment. Yet, instead of taking a step back, young people stepped up and began to organize and galvanize support for their cause.

To express our closeness with young people, the Archdiocese of Washington hosted a retreat for young dreamers. Titled “Your Dream is God’s Dream,” the retreat provided young people with an opportunity to share their stories and to pray and support each other. It also demonstrated the Church’s desire to accompany them. Through tears and smiles, our young people realized that they are not alone. They felt the consolation that Mary offered Juan Diego: “Am I not here, who is your mother? Are you not under my protection?” But above all, they committed themselves to accompany each other and seek out those who have yet to experience the consolation of Christ.

Walking with the immigrant community is an experience of kinship. While we might not be able to solve all their problems, we can certainly love them unconditionally, the same way that God loves each one of us. By walking with them in the midst of uncertain times, we express our closeness to God who has a special predilection for those on the margins, and it is by walking with them that our brothers and sister can experience the closeness of God.

Javier Bustamante serves as Executive Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach in the Archdiocese of Washington.

 Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Justice for Immigrants website to connect with the Faces of Migration and take action to urge Congress to work for an immediate solution for Dreamers.