Friday, March 19, 2010

Then How Come You Look Like Cesar Romero?

Recently, the Texas State Board of Education decided against teaching about one Oscar Romero in their cirriculum, on the grounds that not enough people know about him.

This can be remedied. Oh, can this ever be remedied.

Oscar Romero was born in 1917 in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. He only recieved public education up to the third grade, as that was all that was available; he was tutored for some time afterward by a teacher, Anita Iglesias. Not that it mattered much in El Salvador; your grades meant jack squat in the job market. He had been training in carpentry, but ultimately decided to enter the church.

In 1930, the 13-year-old Romero signed up with a local seminary in San Miguel. He would stay there for seven years, then move up to the national seminary in San Salvador. He wouldn't stay long before getting a call-up to Rome's Gregorian University, where he would do well enough to eventually become ordained as a Catholic priest. He would have stayed in Rome through World War 2, unlike many of the other priests, but he was called back to El Salvador in 1943. He and a traveling companion got stopped in Cuba and did jail time for the crime of having come from World War 2-era Italy. Which, really, fair enough considering. After the companion got sick, he was released to a hospital, and eventually, released outright.

Romero, now back in El Salvador, would set up shop in San Miguel for the next 20 years. Aside from the various religious supports, he started a local Alcoholics Anonymous and helped get San Miguel's Cathedral built.

He would get a conservative reputation, worrying some as he rose through the ranks, eventually making Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. They thought Romero would steer away from social programs for the poor.

He probably would have, had his progressive friend Rutillo Grande not gotten assassinated about a month after he was made Archbishop. Romero did a total, utter 180, opting to take up Grande's causes as his own. Among those causes was, of course, rights for the poor, particularly the right of farmers to organize co-ops. This didn't please the large landowners. The large landowners who knew people with guns. People with guns who happened to be the army.

Romero had one big problem: He wasn't the army and he knew it. And the army was not about to be swayed by nice words. The poor, however, could have their spirits kept up. ""If some day they take away the radio station from us... if they don't let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."

Romero made an attempt to contact then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980 asking him to stop sending military aid, saying "You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people." Carter knew. Carter helped start it. El Salvador was a proxy front in the Cold War. Ronald Reagan would later in fact increase aid to the military.

A month or two later, Romero told a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish."

Clearly, Romero knew what he was in for.

On March 23, Romero ended his homily that day by openly challenging members of the military. "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... 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."

Romero was assassinated the next day.

Not only that, at his funeral, roughly 40 mourners were shot by snipers. Without Romero there to preach for peace, El Salvador soon descended into a civil war that would last until 1992 and see 75,000 dead.

The Catholic Church has set Romero on the road towards sainthood.

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