For the beatification of Archbishop Romero, the postulator of the cause, Archbishop Vicencio Paglia, affirmed that Archbishop Romero is the saint of the Second Vatican Council. This affirmation has made me reflect on the meaning of the life of Archbishop Romero.
The Christian-Catholic Church, throughout the centuries was adopted to the times, acculturizing and identifying, adapting to the way of thinking and organized according to the schemes of civil society. What the Church emphasized throughout all times, especially in the Middle Ages, has been its princely model and the structure of the reigns: the Pope was conceived as a king, the bishops as princes, both in their clothes and in their structures. This way of conceiving and organizing, led the Church to lose something, or much of the spirit and simplicity of the Gospel.
The Second Vatican Council meant to define the Christian life, of what it means to “believe in Jesus, to be his disciple.” On the one hand, with the return to Christian sources; deep study of the Gospel and of the Sacred Scripture, of the holy fathers, of the primitive Church; the Catholic Church has cleansed the mirror of its identity and has met the Jesus-Son of God: humble, crucified, resurrected. On the other hand, the Second Vatican Council became the great reflection of how the Church has to face their encounter, relationship and evangelization of the present world, especially with the document “Gaudium et Spes” that introduces into the Church the central themes of being human: peace, economy, politics, social life, which is the daily life that faces each individual, society, countries, humanity.
This profound reflection on the Church in the present world was applied to Latin America with the meeting of the Bishops in Medellin, Colombia, in the year 1968. This meeting was very firm when analyzing the Christian life in Latin America and its contradictions: Catholic continent with an abundance of the poor, the exaggerated difference between social classes. All this questioning caused almost a confrontation between the “Christians” of royal conception and the poor, humiliated, marginalized people.
The Salvadoran Church also experienced this clash in the Christian conception. The pastoral work implemented in the Salvadoran Church, especially in the Archdiocese of San Salvador, experienced this clash intensely. The arrival of Archbishop Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador was the axis of clashes between both conceptions of the Church and of the Christian life. Archbishop Romero lived in the old regime and conception of the Christian life, but he was also a scholar and presenter of the Council Vatican II to his faithful, especially in San Miguel. Then in his first period of San Salvador he entered into a mental crisis to understand and make his own Medellín. This was helped by Archbishop Pironio, but above all the documents of Pope Paul VI, with his encyclicals: “Ecclesiam Suam”: where he presents the Church of dialogue, the poor ... and the “Populorum Progressio”, where he adapts and applies the Constitution Gaudium et Spest.
Archbishop Romero was a man of study and prayer, focused on a deep study of what the Catholic Church should be, what Christians are: in El Salvador there was a process of conversion and change in their thinking. This was what led to the confrontation between the rich and empowered classes that had wanted him as Archbishop. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, by his closeness and dialogue with the people, especially the poor and those who suffered persecution, by his study and understanding of the conciliar documents and papal encyclicals, an Archbishop Romero reappears, which is made his by the Second Vatican Council: A Church more incarnate, poorer, more humble, that is to say: more evangelical. In the context of this new vision and Christian identity, there is also the social and political situation of the country, an environment that Archbishop Romero already encountered and had to face; that is, the transformation of the Christian-Catholic vision of life; and to discern the right thing that, at that time, was not easy in our country.
That is why we have had such a convulsive and unstable historical phase. Archbishop Romero had to live this situation, conjugate it and did it based on prayer, study and listening to people and reality.
The primitive Christian Church had to face a world and conception so pagan, so dissipated from Rome and for that reason there were so many martyrs. Archbishop Romero is the first martyr of this new Christian conception and with him so many martyrs in the last century. Once again the power is against the Church, as it was shown against Jesus Christ in Judea, against the apostles, popes, bishops and Christian people in the Roman Empire; Archbishop Romero is the flag raised as a witness of the new Christian era. We have martyrs of Nazism, of communism, but we still did not have one of the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Romero had to present the new Christian identity that was the fruit of the Council, within the changing world of the Post-Council and of the social change brought about by the Second World War, by the influence of the youth protests of 1968 and other factors.
Archbishop Romero announces the new times of true Christianity. I say this when trying to understand why the other bishops of El Salvador did not understand or support it, why in Rome it was so difficult to accept their cause of canonization, with the clear opposition of so many prelates from there, because the economically and powerfully wealthy people in El Salvador, even in the name of Christianity, opposed him so fiercely.
The assimilation of the Council requires “conversion”, “leaving security schemes, power and predominance” to assume the humility of the servant of Yahweh. Making the gospel, “good news” for the poor, contradicted the expectation of a dominant, tax and triumphalist religion. And Archbishop Romero and his followers, had to pay that share of the change of course that our Christianity required. Archbishop Romero, inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, knew how to keep the new vision of Christianity firm. We know that the other pastors and the traditional church, which cost him to assume the Second Vatican Council, did not act out of ill will, they were also “good” pastors, the old way, as had always been done; with the Christian mentality of the middle ages. These are aspects that have marked stages of the Church, but the Second Vatican Council came to clarify, to prosecute the Gospel of Jesus through the true causes.
This is the great lesson of Archbishop Romero: man of the Council, that is, of peace, of love for the poor, of incarnated Christianity and imitator of Jesus Christ incarnate, close to the poor, simple and sick. The Christ who has come to dignify human life, to convert us all, -also the poor- into children of God, participating in his Kingdom: of peace, justice, love, unity and fraternity.
Archbishop Romero has left to the Church a shepherd legacy that gives his life for his sheep like Jesus Christ, a Prophet who reads the signs of the times in the light of God, of his Kingdom, of the Gospel, with the gaze of Jesus, and Martyr who He gave his life for all these values, for defending his poorest brothers.
Latin American theology was constituted in theological reflection in a continent marked by a contradictory religion, but which is the fruit of our Christian initiation: the Spaniards who brought the sword and the cross, their missionaries evangelized us, but the Spanish landowners oppressed our ancestors. In addition to the heavy taxes paid to the King, they deepened our poverty. Latin America and its experience and Christian vision is the fruit of this past. A church of elites and the Christian mass of the poor. The Second Vatican Council and Medellin wanted to change this, Archbishop Romero applied it and that is why he paid with his life, this change of mentality.
This is the legacy of Archbishop Romero, a Catholicism more attached to the Gospel.