What would Archbishop Oscar Romero say
about . . . ?
This statement was issued by Pax Christi USA, the
Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, and the SHARE Foundation:
Building a New El Salvador Today.
Twenty-five years ago, on February 17, 1980, Archbishop
Oscar Romero addressed a letter to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to
not send military aid to the Salvadoran government. One month later, the
archbishop was brutally assassinated.
In response to Romero's letter Catholic religious women
and men, former missionaries from Latin America, bishops and people in parishes
across the United States responded with letters, Lenten vigils and services, and
visits to their Congressional and Administration officials to voice their
concern for the continuing violation of human rights in El Salvador, and protest
over U.S. military aid to that country's government.
Today we ask:
---What would Archbishop Romero say today, if he were
proclaiming the Gospel in these times?
---What would he say about the war in Iraq?
---What would he say about the torture scandal in Abu
Ghraib prisons and Guantanamo Bay?
---What would he say about our reliance on a nation on
national security and our prosecution of the war on terror?
---What would he say about the treatment of migrants and
immigrants in our country since September 11th?
---What would about the growing disparity between rich and
poor in our nation and in the world?
In these times of crisis for our country and our world, we
seek to reclaim the prophetic tradition of the church to speak up more
vigorously in defense of poor and the victims of war, following the example of
the martyred Archbishop. Romero was a pastor, first and foremost, and truly
humble, but he spoke with great passion from the Gospel in defense of the
"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 proclaimed ---
what Gospel is that?"
In the beginning of this New Year 2005, we want to call
attention to some of the most painful signs of our time and shine the light of
the Gospel on these events in history. We witness a profound silence --- if not
a defense of torture --- by high level authorities in the U.S. government; an
accelerating war in Iraq with mounting casualties and no end in sight; attacks
on immigrants and the militarization of U.S. borders; and a widening gap between
rich and poor.
Archbishop Romero knew very well that the Gospel mandates
the Church to exercise its influence in the public arena, offering pastoral
judgments on issues of war and peace, national security and the economy, and
bearing witness to its teaching by calling the faithful to clear ethical and
What would he say in these times?
No doubt he would condemn, as did religious leaders around
the world, a preemptive war on Iraq as unjust, immoral and a violation of
international law. But we believe, based on his passionate defense of the poor
and the victims of war in El Salvador during his three years as archbishop, that
he would also condemn the current occupation and war against Iraq as unwise and
He would certainly condemn the use or defense of torture,
under any circumstances, by any person or government, as a gross violation of
human rights and an offense against God. "Whoever tortures a human being,
whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God's
But he would also condemn the growing national security
ideology of our government that threatens to institutionalize lying and
deception in order to pursue an agenda that favors U.S. geopolitical and
economic interests. Quoting the Latin American bishops in Puebla, Archbishop
Romero criticized the ideology of national security as "a new form of idolatry…
leading to the abuse of power and the violation of human rights."
"In some instances," he said, "they presume to justify
their positions with a subjective profession of Christian faith."
Romero would not be silent today. He would speak for the
U.S. soldiers at risk in Iraq; for their anxious and grieving families; for the
Iraqi and other victims and survivors of torture; for the Iraqi civilians. He
would offer pastoral guidelines and encouragement, proclaiming the duty of every
Christian and citizen to resist unjust wars. And he would remind every soldier
--- as he did in his famous last homily --- of the duty of conscience to obey
God's law before obeying an unjust order to kill.
He would certainly question --- in the tradition of
Catholic social teaching --- a blatant U.S. unilateralism that defies
international opinion, violates international treaties, and declares itself
exempt from international law, including the Geneva Conventions. And he would
point the way toward peace, calling for greater justice, greater cooperation
among nations, and greater commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
We have no doubt he would repeat with passion --- because
he knew intimately the destructive capacity of violence and war --- the words
Popes Paul VI and John Paul II: "War no more, war never again!" and "War is a
defeat for humanity!"
He would condemn every attack on immigrants, and lift up
the Gospel command to offer hospitality to the stranger. And he would certainly
condemn as "institutionalized violence" and "idolatry" --- as he did with his
bishop colleagues at Puebla --- a global economic model that "absolutizes wealth
and private property," depriving the poor without access to dignified work,
essential natural resources and services --- including water, health care,
education and social security.
What would happen if the Church in the United States were
to respond this way?
We might lose privileged access to the places of power,
but we would gain the prophetic voice of the Gospel preached from the pulpit and
in the public square. We might lose the financial support of wealthy
benefactors, but gain the freedom to speak and live the Gospel.
Today, we recognize in gratitude how the legacy of
Archbishop Romero has shaped --- and in some cases gave birth to --- the work of
our three organizations and inspired our Catholic and faith-based
constituencies. On March 7, 1980, the Religious Task Force on Central America
and Mexico was born. A year later, the SHARE Foundation: Building a New El
Salvador was formed. Pax Christi USA began to broaden its nearly decade-long
commitment to peace to include solidarity with El Salvador and Central
As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of
a humble and faithful pastor from El Salvador, we call on Catholic religious
leaders and faithful alike to speak out, to use positions of influence, to offer
another way. Lent is a season of repentance, a time for conversion. Let us be
faithful to the spirit of this season, and worthy of Oscar Romero, by our
actions for justice and the risks we take for peace, by our boldness in
proclaiming the Gospel and the courage to bear the