Martyrs of the faith never perish. Their work lives on, inspiring others to sacrificial service. For centuries, God has graced us with men and women of courage whose lives stand before us as examples of faith. One such example is the late Óscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador. Although he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture, he was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador.
Archbishop Romero inspired Christians around the world with his commitment to the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized — those whom Jesus described as the ‘least of these.’ Archbishop Romero’s stirring words from his last sermon capture the essence of his ministry and continue to inspire us all:
Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies . . . We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us.
On May 23rd, 2015, thirty-five years after his assassination, Óscar Romero was beatified in the capital city, San Salvador. At least 250,000 people filled the streets for the ceremony which was the last step before Archbishop Romero is declared a saint. But let us look back on his life. In 1980, the soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop promised history that life, not death, would have the last word.
“I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”
On each anniversary of his death, the people march through the streets carrying that promise printed on thousands of banners. But his murder was a savage warning. Even some who attended Romero’s funeral were shot in front of the cathedral by army sharpshooters. To this day no investigation has revealed Romero’s killers. What endures is Romero’s promise.
Days before his murder he said this to a reporter, “You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”
In these days of peril, may we all heed the words of Pope Francis, “Let us be moved by the Holy Spirit in order to be courageous in finding new ways to proclaim the Gospel.”
Courageous faith that works on behalf of those who are poor will never perish. Lives dedicated to standing against injustice will never perish. God’s holy church, though it is made up of imperfect humans like you and me, will never perish. Thanks be to God.