This new biography by Kerry Walters offers an inspiring look at St. Óscar’s life, starting in childhood and then tracing his evolution from a conscientious but unremarkable (and at times curmudgeonly) priest to a heroic prophet and—finally—a martyr, gunned down in 1980 while celebrating mass.
The “revolution of Christ’s love” that so moved St. Oscar is as relevant to our own lives as it was to an El Salvador torn by civil unrest: motivated by the power of love instead of arms; seeking not the overthrow but the conversion of society; and asserting that all people are equally beloved by God and equally deserving of the world’s resources.
Only God could have foreseen that a timid, introverted, and very traditional Salvadoran priest—one with an unsavory reputation as the lackey of rightwing politicians and wealthy landowners—would go on to become the hero of liberation theology.
And yet, largely thanks to the 1989 biopic starring Raul Julia, many people are familiar with the extraordinary journey of Oscar Romero. The priest, prophet, and martyr canonized by Pope Francis in October, 2018, has become a symbol for our time: a Christian hero who dared all, risked all, and sacrificed all for the sake of love.
Liberation theology’s emergence in the late 1960s sparked a fresh way of reading the gospels and a new focus for evangelization—one that emphasized material as well as spiritual salvation and sought to empower victims of poverty and injustice. Initially, Romero worried that advocates of liberation theology, zealous as they were to redress injustice, fixated on political and economic activism at the expense of dedication to Christ.
Then came 1977 and the tragedy that changed the trajectory of Romero’s life. With the government-sanctioned murder of his friend Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit who lived and worked with campesinos, something that had been stirring inside his heart finally clicked.
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