Tony Sheen, Community Participation Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Westminster for the Catholic development agency CAFOD, tells us why Blessed Oscar Romero continues to inspire him every day, and what actions we can all take to show our concern for the world’s poorest communities.
I was delighted that on 23 May 2015 Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified by the Catholic Church. He is an inspirational Christian martyr of my lifetime and an authentic voice of our Church having a real concern for the poor.
He was a true witness to Jesus’s teaching for us to speak out for justice in the Beatitudes, when He said in Matthew 5:6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… and when people speak all types of criticisms of you on my account”
Romero spoke out about the injustices and killings in El Salvador during his time as Archbishop from 1977 to 1980. In doing so, Romero undermined the rich and powerful, but as a result he faced death threats to stop him speaking out.
Romero gave many inspiring homilies and talks, which resonated in the experience of living in poverty in El Salvador at that time, and they still do today. “Many” he said, “would like the poor to keep on saying it is God’s will for them to live that way. But it is not God’s will for some to have everything and others to have nothing. That cannot be of God.”
His life and work continue to inspire, and led my wife and I to join a Romero Trust Pilgrimage to El Salvador as part of our silver wedding celebrations in 2014.
In his homily, on 23 March 1980, Romero ordered the army to stop killing people:
In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I beg you, I implore you, I order you, in the name of God, stop the repression!
The next day, he was shot dead whilst celebrating mass.
How are Romero’s life and words relevant to us today?
Blessed Oscar Romero adds his voice to that of Jesus, calling us to speak out and be a witness for the preferential option for the poor.
The unjust divide between rich and poor continues today both at home and overseas in the developing world. Visiting El Salvador inspired me to reflect on my own actions and lifestyle choices. I have been questioning:
How comfortable am I knowing so many people in the UK are living in poverty, having to rely on charity from food banks to survive?
- Do I think about how my cheap food and clothes were produced? Was there exploitation involved in their production?
- How do I express my concern for my global neighbour and the one billion people who live in the developing world with inadequate housing, access to clean water, sanitation and human rights? Do I think about the ways in which my lifestyle might be contributing to some of those problems?
My support for CAFOD and how I live my life are ways of expressing my response to these questions. CAFOD asks its supporters to give, act and pray for those in need overseas, as well as asking us all to question our lifestyles and do our bit, as individuals, families, and parishes.
Answering the questions by making changes
Our partners overseas tell us that the impacts of the changing climate are making life harder for the world’s poorest communities. We have asked the UK Government to move away from fossil fuels, the biggest cause of climate change, and towards renewable energy.
16 Catholic dioceses are also acting on Pope Francis’s call to action in Laudato Si’ and are running on renewable energy.
But it is also important that in turn we too show our commitment. We can show our government that people are ready to switch by switching our own home energy supply to clean and sustainable energy.
Meanwhile the livesimply award is an opportunity for Catholic communities – parishes, schools, religious orders and chaplaincies – to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to “work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us”. It is awarded to communities who can show how they have been living simply, in solidarity with people in poverty, and sustainably with creation.
Be inspired to pray with Oscar Romero (CAFOD resources)