Oscar Arnulfo Romero carried the aura of a man propelled to do what he knew he must do – speak out for the poor with no voice in El Salvador.
He knew what was waiting – a death squad, sanctioned by the powerful, and it got him less than a year later.
This humble man was canonized by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. A large contingent of Salvadorians, some wearing peasant garb in honor, was there.
The Pope was wearing the bloodied vestment the archbishop was wearing in March of 1980, when the death squad got him – while he was saying Mass.
I met him twice in Mexico in 1979 when I was covering religion. I have written about those meetings on this site:
In recent weeks, my friend Gene Palumbo, whom I also met that month in Mexico, wrote a piece about the ongoing analysis of Archbishop Romero's journey from a cautious priest serving the church into a committed bishop serving the people as well. There are different versions of how he changed -- including a film with apparent "creativity" on serious issues. Gene explores some of the differences in his article in the National Catholic Reporter.
It is clear that Romero understood what had changed in his life. In a documentary, he is heard saying:
"I don't think there has been a substantial change," he said in the interview. "It is more of an evolution in accordance with the circumstances. My goal as a priest has always been to be faithful to the vocation, to the service of the church and the people."
As the years go on, I feel more connected to Archbishop Romero.
I also feel that I met the four American women, three nuns and a lay worker, who were murdered in December of 1980 in Salvador. I know I met four very dedicated American women based in Salvador during that same Catholic conference in Mexico in March of 1979, but I cannot verify their identities.
Archbishop Romero is being honored by his church for doing work that was suspect in his time – empowering the poor and underprivileged. During that conference in 1979, I heard top American prelates scorning the Liberation Theology behind community-building among the poor. The death squads in Salvador could not have missed the contempt from the hierarchy.
It never ends.
The other day, an expatriated Saudi dissident walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey to update his passport and never left, at least in one piece, in an episode out of “The Sopranos,” undoubtedly ordered at the top of the command chain.
It never ends.
With great respect for the life, and death, of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.