March 24th marks the 27th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Prophet and pastor, Romero spoke for the poor and the dispossessed. He opposed the powerful, and he was gunned down in his own cathedral by right wing death squads. Although his protege, Jon Sobrino, has been disciplined, his voice remains with us.
Romero, perhaps like John XXXIII, was a surprise. According to Renny Golden, he was a compromise choice of the conservative elite, and yet something happened that changed his life. Sonn after becoming Archbishop of San Salvador, one of his priests, Rutilio Grande, was murdered after challenging the wealthy elite whose dogs, he said, ate better than El Salvador's poor. When Romero drove out to view Grande's body, the peasants asked if he would speak for them as had Grande. He had a conversion experience of sorts and took on the mantle of spokesman for the poor. His choice to take this calling isolated himself from the hierarchy, who turned their backs on him and even reported on him to the Vatican.
In his final homily, just moments before being gunned down, he is reported saying: "One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives." He lost his life because he stood alone against the military and for the poor.
During this period of service thousands died, even more fled the country, but Romero was unable to stop the violence. All he could do was speak out, his weekly homilies being broadcast on the radio as a voice of conscience. He said to the people: "If some day they take away the radio station from us . . . if they don't let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."
On March 24th we remember one who came unexpectedly to a calling. His prophetic role is a reminder that we too can be God's microphone.