Romero: The Last Homily

By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

On March 23rd, 1980, Romero gave a sermon calling on El Salvador’s soldiers, as Christians, to stop carrying out government orders in violation of basic human rights. He spent most of March 24th at a retreat organized by Opus Dei, reflecting on the priesthood.

That evening, he celebrated at a small chapel in San Salvador’s Divine Providence Hospital. He had finished his sermon, and taken a few steps to the altar. A gunman emerged from a red coloured vehicle outside and stood at the door of the chapel (Cf. Irish Times).

The Mass goers who first came to his rescue.

“You have just heard in the Lord’s gospel that we must not love ourselves so much that we refrain from plunging into those risks history demands of us, and that those wanting to be out of danger will lose their lives. On the other hand, those who surrender to the service of the people through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because the grain of wheat dies. The earth allows itself to be sacrificed, broken; only in being broken does it produce the harvest.” (Excerpt from Archbishop Romero's last homily)

Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered at around 5 PM on the 24th of March, 1980 after delivering a homily in the Mass at the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador. His last words which we quoted above are significant on two counts.

First, they are the articulation of a Christian life totally plunged into the demands and “risks of history”. Mgr. Romero has been an embodiment of contemporary witnessing to the faith to the point of martyrdom – of a grain of wheat that willingly offers itself to be buried in order to give the world around it new life. These words he has quite profoundly taken to heart so much so that several minutes after having said them, he was shot point blank by his assassin.

Yet there is also a second level involved: this homily (and the whole of Romero’s life and ministry) was a denunciation of the dominant power – the oppressive military regime which had instrumentalized human lives just to perpetuate its control and supremacy.

In other words, while Romero’s life became a symbol of a Christianity that has abandoned the pedestals of ‘theoria’ in order to immerse itself deeply into the ‘praxis’ of liberation, it also came to be known as a moral assertion of human dignity against the technological capitalist economy and calculative politics which have turned arbitrary.