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Romero dir. John Duigan

October 27, 2015

ReroI showed this film to A’ level groups as an introduction to liberation theology and it never failed to move me deeply. (However, I was disturbed by the fact that I was more moved by the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament when Romero went to remove it from a church where soldiers were billeted than I was by the sight of the corpses of the ‘disappeared’ on rubbish dumps – which made me question my Eucharistic theology)

This film focuses upon the last three years in the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Raised in security amidst books and scholar­ly pur­suits, Oscar Romero at first sided with the conservatives of his church against the young radicals who wanted the church to take sides in the struggle between the gov­ernment and the different groups fighting for such reforms as land redistribu­tion.

As the film shows, he was elected to the post of Archbishop of San Salvador with the backing of the conservatives, who thought him a safe candidate who would not rock the boat. They had not counted on his capacity for change, nor on his long-time friendship with the radical priest Rutilio Grande (Richard Jordan). Serving as his friend’s conscience, he seeks to open the eyes of the newly elected archbishop to what is happening to the oppressed people in the countryside.

When Fr. Grande is murdered along with an old man and a boy by a death squad, the Archbishop proposes that all Sunday Masses be cancelled except for the memorial Mass to be held at the cathedral. He wants the country unified in their response to the atrocity. Some of the other bishops oppose him, one complaining, “It will be interpreted as a political statement.” Romero understands this, but goes ahead anyway with his plan.

The conservative members of the Bishop’s Council think they can guide him in the “right way,” that is in support of the corrupt government that labels anyone who questions its authority a “Communist.” Especially wary of any change in the position of the new Archbishop is Bishop Estrada, a chaplain to the military. He sees no contradiction in his claim to follow Christ and the army which brutalizes the people. He is very upset that Romero is refusing to attend the inauguration of the new president as a sign of protest. If ever there was a “weed in the field” (See Jesus’ parable in Matt. 13:44–52), it is this man who has sold his soul for prestige and power, completely forgetting that he as a bishop is to “feed the sheep.”

Romero is a celebration of the transformation of a man who preferred reading books to wielding power, chatting with friends to standing before a radio mike. But, called to defend his fellow priests from the murderous attacks of their enemies, this very private man be­came a masterful wielder of power and of the medium of radio in the fight for jus­tice.

In the powerful scene in which the Archbishop and the people face down the guns of the soldiers occupying a church he says: “We are here today to retake possession of this church and to strengthen all those whom the enemies of the church put down. You should know that you are not alone, for you are the church. You are the people of God. In the here and now He is crucified in you, just as surely as he was crucified 2000 years ago outside of Jerusa­lem. And you should know that your pain and suffering will contribute to El Salvador’s liberation and redemp­tion.”

In the end Oscar Romero himself will share in the crucifixion of his Lord, shot down in a hospital chapel while lifting up the Host in the Mass.

rero 2Timeline

1917 Oscar was born in Ciudad barrios, E Salvador.

1930 He declared he had a vocation to the priesthood.

1942 He was ordained priest, and returned to El Salvador in 1944. He was a parish priest and also wrote in the diocesan newspaper. He was known as a quiet, conservative man. He became auxiliary bishop of El Salvador in 1970, and bishop of a rural parish in 1974.

1977 He was made Archbishop of E] Salvador, a ‘safe’ appointment, someone who would maintain the status quo. Within three weeks this had changed. The Church was entering into a time of persecution because of new ideas which were beginning to be talked about and acted upon by those working with and for the poor. Their talk of justice threatened the way of life of the rich and powerful.

On 12th March a radical priest and friend of Oscar’s, Father Rutilio Grande, was brutally murdered in Aquilares. He had been living in poverty alongside landless peasants, believing this is what Jesus would have done. Romero was shocked and decided to act. He ordered three days of mourning and a funeral mass in the cathedral, despite advice to the contrary. Further actions followed.

1979 Oscar visited the Pope in Rome and outlined to him, with evidence, the injustices which were part of life in El Salvador. He did not have much support within the church, and was under threat from those outside it. He spoke out against the USA‑financed security forces, and became too much of a threat to the government.

1980 He was shot dead while celebrating mass. His last words were: ‘May God have mercy on the assassin.’

1981 Oscar Romero was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (having been nominated in 1978).

‘He became someone new. He acquired a new and different sense of what it meant to be a Christian. He understood his ministry as a bishop in a new and different way. He even adopted a new theology, much to the surprise and the alarm of those who preferred the old, the known, with which they felt secure.’ Jon Sobrino.

‘May Christ’s sacrifice give us the courage to offer our own bodies for justice and peace.’ ‘A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – what gospel is that?’ Oscar Romero (1917 – 1980)

Archbishop Oscar Romero: I’d like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same People. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead in the words of God, “Thou shalt not kill!” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the Law of God. In His name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much, and whose laments cry out to heaven: I implore you! I beg you! I *order* you! [shouts] Stop the repressions!

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