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'I will rise again'

Easter is not an event that happened only once! Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Easter is not an event that happened only once! Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Like Christ, Archbishop Oscar Romero's final public mission (as Archbishop of San Salvador) was about three years long. Like Christ, he had the establishment - secular and ecclesiastical - against him.

During those three years, both fell out of favour with the powerful, the rich and the mighty. Mgr Romero's 'brothers', the bishops, - with one exception - abandoned him.

They sent a secret document to Rome reporting him, accusing him of being 'politicised' and of seeking popularity. The Nuncio, Mgr Emanuel Gerada, was far from being his friend. However, the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden had a special place for him in their heart. A similar special place they had had for Christ.

On March 23, 1980, a day before he was martyred, he gave a fiery speech in the temple. Ending a long homily broadcast throughout the country, his voice rose to breaking while addressing the soldiers, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant... No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God..."

There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny. Then his voice burst, "In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people, I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."

Mgr Romero was not always that courageous and outspoken. That is why they chose him to become archbishop of the capital. As Bishop of Santiago de Maria he was a predictable conservative prelate and a frequent critic of the clergy supporting liberation theology. The general expectation was that he would have little to say about the injustice and violence rampant in the country.

He soon surprised those who appointed him and those who were overjoyed at his appointment.

Within three weeks of his appointment, Fr Rutilio Grande, SJ, along with two parishioners, was murdered by the regime. His only crime was the defence of the Gospel's message of social justice. His murder changed the timid Mgr Romero into the lion defender of the downtrodden. He never looked back.

Mgr Romero spent his last day - March 24 - with his priests. He returned home in the evening where he had planned to celebrate Mass at the hospital chapel. In his last homily Mgr Romero said: "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."

Having completed the Liturgy of the Word, he had just taken the bread in his hands to start the Liturgy of the Eucharist when a shot was fired by a hired gunman. Mgr Romero fell to the floor behind the altar, dying or already dead. The fatal shot had found its target.

Tens of thousands attended his funeral. Several bishops from abroad concelebrated. The bishops of El Salvador, with the exception of one, were absent.

Their successors atoned. Last February, they wrote to the Vatican supporting Mgr Romero's canonisation: "As Church, it is our great desire that Archbishop Romero be canonised as soon as possible," San Salvador Archbishop Jose Escobar Alas told reporters on February 7. Millions, no doubt, already consider him a saint.

In one of his homilies, Mgr Romero had said: "I do not believe in death without resurrection... If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."

The Master had said something similar 2,000 years ago.

Easter is not an event that happened only once!

Happy Easter.

joseph.borg@um.edu.mt

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