On this day 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he celebrated Communion during Mass. I've written about him numerous times, so I won't go into the history here. If you want a post that compares the lives of Christ and Romero, head over to this piece on my theology blog.
You may wonder why this event looms large in my brain, especially if you are younger. The political situations in both Central America and South Africa formed the backdrop, and sometimes the forground, of my college years. We talked about U.S. involvement and what our individual responses should be. I met many Central American refugees. I spent summers in the D.C. area, which had lots of refugees, and I went for week-end visits to Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian community birthed by the Koinonia group, which devoted itself to helping Central Americans get safely to Canada, where they could get asylum.
Now the event looms large for me not just because of how it's woven into my past. As I get older, I'm haunted by the ways I'm not living up to my full potential, or the ways I feel like I'm not. As I've discussed before, I don't focus on all the good things I do, but all the good things I haven't yet done.
I'm collecting stories of people who have done their world-altering work and/or achieved success in midlife or after midlife. I hadn't considered the story of Romero from that angle until I watched the movie Romero yesterday.
The movie makes clear, as does the history, that Romero was chosen to be archbishop because he was the safe choice, the one that wouldn't make waves, the man who would be lost in a book not out transforming the church. In the early part of the movie, he argues for the middle way of the church, by which he means the non-confrontational way.
Romero will not retain his detachment, as history crowds in on him. Priests are killed, along with huge swaths of the population, and it becomes clear that being part of the church will protect no one. Romero argues forcefully against the killings. He becomes a human rights hero. And he is killed.
I want to argue that in death he becomes more powerful than in life, but the slaughter in El Salvador continued for the decade after his death. I do think that an archbishop being killed during mass makes a stronger headline than the mass slaughter of peasants and perhaps does more to change minds and foreign policy.
But there I go, being naive again, thinking that foreign policy follows the will of the people and looks out human rights of all. After watching Romero, we watched Missing. That movie makes it clear that foreign policy is not always looking out for human rights, not always protecting all or an U. S. citizens. It's a devastating movie.
And here we are at Palm Sunday, a church festival which may seem to have nothing to do with recent political history. But for some of us modern folks, especially those who have been shaped by Liberation Theology, we see the Christ story as inherently political.
Take the crucifixion, for example. The Romans executed people in all sorts of ways; crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the state. I won't belabor the point here, since it's my creativity blog, not my theology blog. But clearly, the Roman rulers felt so threatened by the message of Jesus that they crucified him.
Christ, Romero, and Missing: all potent examples of what happens when one is on a collision course with the ruling powers of one's day. When I hear Baby Boomers whine about how the younger generation doesn't get involved politically, I think of these cautionary tales.
And when I think about how I'm not living in sync with my values, perhaps I should also think of the story of Archbishop Romero and what the ultimate cost could be.
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