Scottish Parliament hears message of hope in the life and legacy of Blessed Oscar Romero
On Tuesday 7th November, Blessed Oscar Romero took centre stage in the Scottish Parliament thanks to the contributions of Dr Jonathan Reyes, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dr Reyes, in Scotland on the invitation of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, delivered Time for Reflection to the main chamber in Parliament in the afternoon and later addressed Archbishop Cushley, MSPs, parliamentary staff and guests in one of the Parliament’s committee rooms, talking about the life of Romero and what we can learn from it.
Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to 1980. For much of the past century, the country of El Salvador, an impoverished and majority Catholic country, was politically turbulent, caught between two warring parties: a ruling militaristic Government dominated by a few wealthy families, and Marxist revolutionary forces. As is always true in cases of political violence, it is the people of the country who suffer the most. Dr Reyes reflected on the fact that in cases of political violence “it is the people of the country who suffer the most.”
“Romero’s enduring concern” says Dr Reyes “was the welfare, spiritual and material, of those suffering people. He was born into a family of modest means and his service was marked by a consistent interest in and care for the people in his charge. He made the effort to truly know them and to understand their concerns by personally visiting with them. He stood in authentic solidarity with them.”
Dr Reyes spoke of Archbishop Romero’s drive for peace and his desire to bring warring parties together through reconciliation. Whilst much of Romero’s work was done quietly in the background he inevitably came to the surface as the war worsened. This was certainly the case when his close friend Father Rutilio Grande was killed. As Dr Reyes explains: “Grande had been working among the poor in the little town of Aguilaras. He and two lay people were shot down on their way to a neighbouring village; the church was vandalized, the tabernacle was opened and sacred hosts were scattered around on the floor.”
He continues: “To those who murdered Grande and his companions, and who might be listening on the radio, Romero issued a call to change to repentance and extended forgiveness. These are his words: “We want to tell you, murderous brothers, that we love you and that we ask of God repentance for your hearts, because the church is not able to hate, it has no enemies.””
The fighting escalated and Romero came to realise that there would be no solution to El Salvador’s social problems as long as there was deep polarisation in the country. A week before he died he preached a long homily on the topic: “The denouncements of the left against the right and the hatred of the right for the left appear irreconcilable, and those in the middle say, wherever the violence comes from, be tough on them both. And thus we live in groups, polarized, and perhaps even those of the same group don’t love each other… We need to burst these dikes, we need to feel that there is a Father who loves us all and awaits us all. We need to learn to pray the Our Father and tell him: Forgive us as we forgive….. God wills it – let us be reconciled, and we shall make of El Salvador a land of brothers and sisters, all children of one Father who awaits us all with outstretched arms.”
In his third year as Archbishop of San Salvador, Archbishop Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass. Dr Reyes comments: “As he had given his energies during his life to serve his people, so he gave his blood in their defence. In many ways, our politically turbulent times are not so unlike Archbishop Romero’s. May the God of peace help each of us to emulate the qualities for which Romero is rightly honoured: an authentic solidarity with those we serve, a generous personal concern for those most in need and unflinching courage in speaking and acting for justice and the genuine welfare of all.”
There is no doubt that we can all learn from the life and legacy of Blessed Oscar Romero; to cross political and social divides and see each other as a brother or sister, and to never be afraid to build friendships, even among our enemies.
The event was sponsored by a cross-party group of MSPs: Mike Rumbles MSP (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Elaine Smith MSP (Scottish Labour), Roseanna Cunningham MSP (SNP), and Donald Cameron MSP (Scottish Conservatives). Some of their comments are below:
Roseanna Cunningham: “I very much hope that his [Oscar Romero’s] name is going to live on because I think he was the most shining example of a shepherd in our Church.”
Mike Rumbles: “[Romero has] some important lessons for us, especially for those of us who are interested in social change and social justice and quite frankly to change the world for better.”
Donald Cameron: “He believed in fighting for social justice across all boundaries and across political boundaries and others, and it is so important that in the centenary of his birth we pay testament to his achievement. It is great that we’ve got the Catholic Church here in Parliament and it’s great that we’ve got a speaker of Dr Reyes’ calibre to come and talk to us about the work and life of such an important figure.”
A short film of some of the highlights, recorded and edited by Sancta Familia Media, is below: