Archbishop Oscar Romero – Icon and Symbol of the Martyrs

Msgr. Luis Infanti Della Mora, Bishop of the region of Aysen in Chilean Patagonia, is among the most committed to the defence of the land of the local peoples of Patagonia. We asked him to explain to us what meaning it had to remember Msgr Oscar Romero, one of the most significant figures of the Church in Latin America.

Commemorating Msgr Oscar Romero does not only mean recalling a figure of the past, but also celebrating our own life. The word martyr means witness, one who bears witness to the faith, to life, to the life of God. It is not only for the privileged few but includes everyone who wishes to live out their faith in depth, with commitment and joy.

Oscar Romero is a martyr because he felt compassion when he saw the sufferings of his people and wanted to wipe their bleeding faces. He did this as a bishop, a pastor sharing the life, sufferings, joys, plans and dreams of his people. This he did in opposition to those in power, the power that always sought to gain the allegiance of those who might criticise them, judge them or question them. It was a power that, in the past, was more political (besides being a military power) while today it has more to do with world economics. The example of Patagonia is one of a struggle against the great economic powers that make themselves God, believing themselves to be the lords and masters of the world, taking possession of water, lands, minerals and the seas, trampling underfoot the peoples who live in those lands, who love their lands and sacrifice themselves for their lands. Consequently, we have the duty, as Christians, to fight for peace, justice and brotherhood so that every son and daughter of God may have the right and the duty to share in the gifts that God offers to the whole of humanity.

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Today, to the bleeding faces of our brothers and sisters we must add that of our planet. Anyone who has had the privilege of living side by side with indigenous peoples knows better than anyone that the Land of God is despised, trampled upon and plundered; and knows the wounds inflicted on the earth, the water and the gifts that God has bestowed on all.

Struggling for justice, peace and brotherhood

Just as in the time of Oscar Romero, we, today, are called to show compassion and to take part in this struggle for justice, peace and brotherhood. This is the mission of every Christian: to be concerned with the sufferings of the people among whom they live. Faith means not passing by on the other side of the road or of history. It means taking part in this history, aware that those in power are always more and more concerned with themselves and their own interests than with the interests and the needs of the poorest. Whose side are we on?
Monsignor Romero was continually being flattered by representatives of political and economic power who wanted to befriend him so as to escape his condemnation but he never once consented. As his brothers and sisters died he, too, felt something in him was dying. His death made hope bloom again for a people, for a continent and for the whole Church. Its hope and its people are the proof that today, the person of faith ñ whether a bishop, a religious, a lay person ñ is either a prophet, the living word of God today, or else has no faith at all. And so we too are martyrs today, if the word of God that comes to us is transformed into life, beyond the written word; if we are able to hear God who continually speaks to us through every people and every land. Are we able to hear the cry of our people, the cry of the earth?

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It may seem easier to hear this voice in times of dictatorships, in El Salvador or any other country of Latin America, when brutal murders openly take place day after day, than in the capitalist consumer society of today, where death is more peaceful and suffering more concealed. This makes the challenge of today more complex. It means we must try to do as Pope Francis asks us: to be missionaries, to forge ahead beyond the frontiers, to avoid closing ourselves in our liturgies but, instead, opening our liturgies to the world, knowing that the place in which we are called to live and the land we dwell in are our altar.

To be missionary today means to be prophetic

My pastoral charter ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, has given me the opportunity to visit many regions, especially in Latin America, and to become aware that the sufferings of the people, the violation of their rights and the denial of justice are much the same everywhere: in AysÈn, Chiapas, a Rosario, Cochabamba and even here. To celebrate is to honour people who gave their very lives like Msgr Romero, even to the point of death, but also to offer our lives for the good of our brothers and sisters, taking upon ourselves the consequences of our faith.

And if there is anyone who wants to warn us against the badly defined border between faith and politics, we have no doubt at all that we propose a new heavens and a new earth as a result of our faith and our spirituality. Neither have we any doubt that in this we will always be in conflict with the powers that seek to trample upon the dignity of our brothers and sisters.

Peace as the fruit of justice is our great mission: to be missionary today means to be prophetic. Msgr. Oscar Romero, prophet of justice, peace and life, was such because he felt deeply within himself the presence of God, but especially because he felt that his people were the living word of God. May this be a sign for us, too, to make holiness present through a prophetic, missionary and joyful attitude, living our faith alongside those who feel most abandoned and alongside the suffering faces and hearts of God.


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