One such hero is Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered in El Salvador in March 1980 while he was saying Mass in a small hospital chapel. He was aware that his life was in danger from the death squads who targetted the poor and those, who like the Archbishop, stood up for justice, equality and a cessation to the violence that terrorised the country. He has always been regarded as a martyr and a saint by many Christians but the Catholic Church has never formally declared him a saint, though the process to do this began in 1997. While the Church of England was willing to honour Romero as a modern day martyr and even has his statue above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey the Catholic Church seemed hesitant, fearing, it was thought, that to do so was to support liberation theology, something Pope John Paul and Benedict XVI, with their fear of marxism and communism were loath to do.
But it looks as though this is about to change. Last week Pope Frances admitted that Romero's path towards official canonisation had been blocked by his predecessors and that “now it is unblocked.” For Francis canonisation is not a question of theology but of how a person lives out their faith. This surely gets to the heart of things. So much harm has been done in the name of truth and dogma and if all religious people lived according to the ideals of their faith the world would be a better place. Like Oscar Romero, Francis is clear that the Christian faith means condemnation of structural injustice, of greed, of violence, of discrimination. It means responding to the presence of God in the victimised and voiceless. It means treating others as our brothers and sisters, seeing in them the God in whose image they are made. And of course Christianity is not alone in this. Nor is Romero the only one to have worked for these ends.
Alberto Hortardo was a Chilean priest who died at the early age of 51 having founded an organisation ' Hogar de Cristo' to provide homes and shelter for poor and abandoned young people in Chile. He was an educator dedicated to making Catholic Social Teaching more widely known and understood, publishing a number of important books and founding the journal ‘Mensaje’. He is the Jesuit highlighted in this month's British Province Calendar who believed that living the truth was much more important than talking about it.
Alberto was obviously an important person in Chile and his sanctity was such that Benedict XVI had no problem in canonising him. And yet there must have been political connotations to his work as he helped establish the Chilean Trade Union Association. It's not possible to be a saint in private and any commitment to justice and service will lead to confrontation with authority.
in my own community Dorothy Stang was murdered at 73 years of age in 1995 because of her decision to live in poverty and simplicity in Brazil. She worked with the Pastoral Land Commission and fought with them for the rights of rural workers and peasants. Her defence of land reforms in the face of threats from logging companies led to her cold blooded murder. Like Oscar Romero she knew her life was in danger but she courageously remained true to her commitment and work for justice, drawing strength no doubt from her faith. She said "I don't want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment".
The spirit of these three people lives on and can be an inspiration to those like myself who can get overwhelmed by the evil perpetrated in the name of religion - an evil so graphically seen daily on our television sets and in our media.