A victory for justice

Philippine Church leaders have to follow the example of San Romero de las Americas
A victory for justice

A Catholic holds an image of blessed Monsignor Oscar Romero, while taking part in the 'pilgrimage of light' in San Salvador, on the eve Romero's canonization in this Oct. 13, 2018 file photo. (Photo by Marvin Recinos/AFP)

The exemplary life of San Romero de las Americas is worth imitating by church people in the Philippines if they are to become real shepherds to their flock.

"In the name of God, and in the name of His 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!" 

Such were the prophetic words of then Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero that reverberated in his bleeding El Salvador

Such words were his death sentence. 

The assassination of the archbishop was one of the biggest unsolved killings during the Cold War.

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El Salvador's orphaned faithful, while already invoking the martyred archbishop as San Romero de las Americas, wrote voluminous petitions to proclaim their pastor a saint.

Amid the alleged efforts of "forces of the right" to block the process toward sainthood, Archbishop Romero's canonization was finally realized on Oct. 14, or 38 years after his martyrdom.

Against the backdrop of repression and resistance, the once shy priest and conservative bishop was transformed into the world's most courageous prelate in contemporary times.

He listened to the cries of the poor and the marginalized. 

In the course of his ministry, he immersed himself with farmers and workers. He shed tears and prayed with the families of the disappeared, torture victims and countless massacre survivors. 

Many times, the involvement of "men of the cloth" in Basic Christian Communities, their courageous response to the call of the times, earned for them the ire of the powers-that-be.

Fearlessly using the pulpit to speak to people from all walks of life — politicians, soldiers and guerrillas — to condemn violence and promote social justice, Archbishop Romero became the "voice of the voiceless."

Ester Alvarenga, an El Salvadorian massacre survivor and a former political detainee, said the prelate's canonization was a response to the clamor of the people.

"For many years, ambassadors to Rome impeded the cry of the people to canonize the archbishop. They said that it was a political assassination and not martyrdom," she said.

But the bishop's martyrdom is sainthood in itself. "The canonization was a formality and Archbishop Romero's canonization signifies justice for El Salvador," said Alvarenga.

Neris Gonzales, a torture survivor who travelled all the way to Rome to witness the canonization, described it as a "spiritual cleansing" that propels her to continue to work for "truth, reparation, and restorative justice."

"It signifies the imperative to sustain the struggle for a world without disappeared people, without torture, and without violence," she said.

I have personally visited El Salvador a couple of times. 

I am deeply honored to have visited the chapel of the Hospital of the Divine Providence where Archbishop Romero was brutally murdered. 

Having paid respects to Archbishop Romero in his tomb in San Salvador's Cathedral was a privilege for one coming from the distant Philippines.

The families of the disappeared and the victims of torture whom I had the chance to talk with were living testimonies of repression.

Orphaned by the death of a good shepherd, they terribly missed Archbishop Romero and continued to pray to the man who embraced their sufferings as his own. 

In the context of Philippine politics, with the thousands of drug-related killings and undocumented enforced disappearances, we wonder where the "scrupulous conscience" of Catholic Filipinos is?

Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.

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