Oscar Romero, Martyr and Saint

Mural of the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in Panchimalco, on the outskirts of San Salvador. Photograph: Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters

Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, First Things

As the disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper, Jesus told them, “All of you will be scandalized because of me this night, for it is written in scripture, I will smite the shepherds and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Some two thousand years later, on the evening of March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero began to say Mass at the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador. As he finished preaching the homily and turned toward the altar, he was shot. The day before, the archbishop had called for the Salvadoran army to refuse to carry out any more extra-judicial killings ordered by the Junta. Earlier that month, he had anticipated the consequences of this public act. “You can tell them, if they succeed in killing me, then I pardon them, and I bless those who may carry out the killing.”

Romero’s death, like that of Christ, remains a stumbling block. The gospel is not a tidy theory that explains the world, a spiritual technique for facing life’s challenges, or a program whereby mankind can redeem itself—by violence or by peace. No, the Cross contradicts all who attempt to decipher the world without God or to submit it to human control. It urges us to place our trust in him to whom we owe our life and being. That the Innocent One should suffer and die for the guilty is the ultimate scandal of human history. God’s grace alone frees us from sin and enables us to collaborate in building his kingdom.

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