Oscar Romero recognized that liberation had to mean more than simply escaping oppression. While some clergy were taking up arms alongside their people to fight the enemy, Romero saw this as no more effective in the long run than when the apostle Peter drew a sword and cut off a soldier's ear when Jesus was arrested the night before his crucifixion (Luke 22:50).
On November 27, 1977, only a few months after Father Grande had been killed and the parish church in Aguilares desecrated and then reclaimed, Romero reminded Salvadoran Christians that their response could not be "the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred," but must instead be what he called "the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat the weapons into sickles for work."
This was a very different message of hope for those who would listen. He spoke in strong, even aggressive terms, but about love. This was the beginning of a uniquely prophetic message worthy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.; it showed just how broad and deep was the pastoral heart of Romero.
Until the day he died, the archbishop saw his vocation as being the chief shepherd of all the people, both oppressed and oppressors alike. Again and again, he reached out to those who crucified Jesus anew in their oppressive, heinous acts and offered them God's pardon and forgiveness:
I would like to say as a brother to all those friends whose consciences are uneasy because they have sinned against God and neighbor: You cannot be happy that way; the God of love is calling you. He wants to forgive you, he wants to save you.
Romero had been underestimated by virtually everyone before becoming archbishop, and as archbishop he was misunderstood by everyone except the poor and the oppressed, who found in him a leader to trust and follow. They came to him from all across the country, bringing photographs of loved ones who had disappeared in the night. They shared with him stories of fear and frustration. They looked to him as their voice, and through his preaching and his weekly radio broadcasts, he in turn reminded them of their responsibility to stand up for what they knew to be right. Knowing that at any moment the government could close down the radio station he used, Romero called on each believer to become "a microphone, a radio station, a loudspeaker." As their pastor, he was doing more than overseeing or protecting his flock. He was empowering them.
Excerpted from A Dangerous Dozen: Twelve Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo but Taught Us to Live Like Jesus. © 2011 by The Rev. C.K. Robertson, PhD. Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091 This book may be purchased directly from www.skylightpaths.com.