Friday, March 09, 2018

Saint Oscar

Image result for oscar romero icon

“In the name of God and this suffering population,
whose cries reach to the heavens more tumultuous each day,
I beg you, I beseech you, I order you,
in the name of God, cease the repression.”

From Oscar Romero's final homily

The Vatican has announced that it is one step closer to the canonization of the late archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. He was gunned down by members of a death squad in 1980, while celebrating the mass in a San Salvador chapel. Protestants aren't big on declaring individual Christians as spiritual superstars, preferring the Pauline notion that we are all saints in Christ. And then there is the problematic component in Catholicism of coming up with a miracle through the individual to seal the deal.

Still, Oscar Romero is something of a United Church hero, making it into what I imagine are hundreds of sermons over the years. It's because he made the shift from tacitly supporting the status quo of a corrupt and violent government through silence to being an outspoken critic of the social injustice which resulted in systemic poverty and a reign of terror. Preachers are drawn to a good drama in story-telling, so Romero's untimely death sure fits that bill.

I do feel that Romero deserves to remembered for generations to come and he is my idea of an exemplary figure. And since I served four congregations through the decades which were named after saints (James, Andrew x 2, and Paul) I can hardly be overly disdainful of canonization.

I am intrigued to discover that one of the reasons that Oscar Romero's canonization has moved slowly is that some in the Roman Catholic church perceive his ministry and death as being politically motivated and related to Liberation Theology.

How can we possibly separate our Christian lives from the realities of inequality and injustice? We have a bunch of biblical books named for prophets who spoke out against comfy and falise religion and Jesus did so as well. In that sense religion and small-p, non-partisan politics are always intertwined, yet we often don't get this.

During the last federal election the Poverty Roundtable in our community held a public candidates' debate on poverty issues and one candidate declined to participate. In the congregation I served I encouraged those who were supporters of his party to contact his office and let him know that his involvement was important. While what I said was rather tame, afterward some members grumbled that I was "getting political" from the pulpit. I was delighted that even though this riding had been held by his party for years he got his ass whupped in the election, in part because he wouldn't participate in any of the debates. I wasn't endorsing any one party  but as a Christian I sure felt that all of the candidates should let us know where they stood on this important issue. And I know that a number of those grousers have been involved in party politics for a long time. How can we be Christians Sunday mornings and hang up that cloak as we walk out the door?

Perhaps we should all revisit the story of Oscar Romero. The bio-pic of his life and death is a good one, and was financed, in part, by the order of which he was a member.

What do you think about the separation of religion and politics? How about Romero as a saint?

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