Romero: Seeing firsthand the poverty and repression of rural farmworkers led him to change

On Sunday, the Catholic Church will officially recognize Saint Romero of the Americas as a Catholic saint. For years, the political and religious right in Latin America and the world tried to delegitimize Oscar Romero's work on behalf of the poor and marginalized. His love for and work on behalf of the marginalized emerged from his close reading of the Bible, but the right claimed that it was because of his subversive politics. He was a communist. An activist. A terrorist. It has taken awhile but the Catholic Church has finally come around to the fact that he Romero was assassinated because he lived out the Bible. He spoke out against injustice. He worked to bring about a more just El Salvador. And for that Roberto D'Aubuisson and his allies had him killed.

I would say that most non-Salvadorans familiar with Oscar Romero's story have learned about him through the film Romero, in which he is played by Raul Julia. It is a really important film but it does include some inaccuracies. Some minor and some not so minor. In yesterday's National Catholic Reporter, Gene Palumbo takes aim at several of those inaccuracies in Archbishop Óscar Romero: setting the record straight: Seeing firsthand the poverty and repression of rural farmworkers led him to change.

Gene, like others before him, argue that Romero was not transformed by the murder of his friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande. While Rutilio's murder was a really important event in Romero's life, it was not the transformative moment that caused a reserved bookworm to become an outspoken leader in the fight against injustice in El Salvador. Instead, Romero's evolution occurred over the course of his life. Most importantly, it occurred during his years as Bishop of Santiago de Maria.
What had happened? Unbeknownst to Schindler — and to many others — Romero had changed during an extended stay, in the mid-'70s, far from the capital city. In the early '70s, as an auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, he was seen as highly conservative; that was the period when he drew the ire of the priests who were so upset by the news of his appointment as archbishop. But in 1974, he was named bishop of the rural diocese of Santiago de María. There, he drew close to farmworkers and catechists who were targeted by the military. What he saw led him to a major shift in outlook.
It's worth reading Gene's article in full. Romero was not the communist that ARENA and certain US officials accused him of being. And he was not the conservative book loving Catholic unconcerned with politics until his friend was killed that is often the caricature of him from the left, or at least from those who have watched the film.

We are screening Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero tonight on the University of Scranton campus. Stop by if you are in town. I am going to be in El Salvador next week. DM or email me if you would like to try and meet up.