The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, urged Christians to emulate Oscar Romero by making the cries of the poor central to their prayers during an ecumenical homily at St Martin in the Fields in London on 21 March. Excepts from Cardinal Nichols’ homily.
On 23rd May, in the city of San Salvador, Oscar Romero will be declared ‘Blessed’, a martyr for the faith of the Church, faith in Jesus Christ. He died, the Church proclaims, in holiness of life and for one reason: hatred of the faith, hatred of Jesus, hatred of the unfailing love of God, shown in Jesus, which has such a special, preferential place for the poor.
This love, in which we place our trusting faith, is the source of the true dignity of every human being, from the first moment of their conception to their natural death.
Without recognition of this truth, human dignity has no firm roots. Those who wish to deny that dignity, in their unjust and cruel treatment of others will, sooner or later, detest the faith and love that so uphold that dignity. The dead body of Jesus, on the cross, in his mother’s arms, is the most powerful portrayal of the reality and the cost of that love and the opposition it evokes. Similarly, the dead body of Oscar Romero, crumpled at the foot of the altar, the altar on which that same death of Christ is made present every day, is a most powerful and compelling witness to that same overwhelming truth. God loves his people, bestowing on them an innate dignity, especially on those who are denied almost everything else.
Today, in the name of this martyr, we resolve again to be upholders of this God-given dignity of every person. His focus is always on the Lord. This is his radical conversion, not to causes but to Christ. His pathway is thoroughly Ignatian, the pathway of decision, not ignoring feelings, but always giving first place to the act of deciding, of dedication freed from self-interest. This determination is upheld, by grace, in the face of every obstacle. It is an act of the will: above all else to be one with the heart and will of God made visible in Jesus. This indeed is his radical challenge to you and to me and one we strive to accept afresh in this very special celebration.
Archbishop Romero is an inspiration to many. For that we thank God. Broad coalitions are important. They can be so effective. But on us who understand and treasure these deeper reaches of his heart it is incumbent that we never let the name of Jesus be eclipsed or forgotten. There will be some who will want to reject this name. Yet Jesus is the true source of our vision and our determination. The heroic witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero arises from there. Yes, we gather around this witness, held together and inspired by it. Let us never forget it true source.
Indeed, it is good, as a last step, to reflect further on the unity to which we are called by the witness of this remarkable man, now counted among the ‘blessed’ in heaven. He makes clear that the way to unity among Christian people is the pathway of a burning desire to be one in Christ, above all else and before all else. Only this can give to us all a united heart. And we must desire to be with Christ where he most loves to be – with the poor in heart and in the heart of the poor. Listen to some Romeo’s words: ‘The poverty that Jesus Christ here sanctifies is not simply a material poverty, not just having nothing – that is evil. It is a poverty that awakens consciousness, a poverty that accepted the cross and sacrifice, but not out of mere compliance, but because it knows this is God’s will. Therefore we become holy according to the degree to which we make poverty a part of our spirituality and to the degree in which we hand ourselves over to the Lord and show our openness to God’ (Homily of 17 February 1980). May we all learn to walk that path towards the unity for which Jesus prayed so earnestly.