Archbishop Oscar Romero, who served the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador, is an important public figure in Latin American socio-political history. He was appointed as the Archbishop of San Salvador in late 1970s. Though he was assassinated in 1980, his legacy lives on still today, mainly due to the preservation of his political and religious discourses, that survive today as tapes and transcripts. The four pastoral letters comprise an integral part of his preachings to his followers. Consistent with his role as the pastor of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Romero sought to provide moral and spiritual guidance to his followers through his four letters.
As El Salvador was one of the poorest countries in the world, the issue of poverty had deeply moved Archbishop Romero. Although theology per se is not tied to politics and economics, the Archbishop “never ceased to condemn the social and economic structures that oppressed the poor, and the murderous violence used to protect the structures” (Brockman , 1988). In his letters one could see several allusions to economic and political injustices that happened in El Salvador during his tenure as Archbishop. The first letter titled The Church of Passover was published on Easter, a few years after assuming the position of Archbishop. This is the most abstract of his letters, for it broadly deals with issues of suffering and poverty in the world in general and does not seem to delve into local injustices. The second of his letters, titled The Church, the Body of Christ in History takes on the issue of poverty in El Salvador head on. It asserts that to serve the poor is to serve Jesus Christ himself and failing short of this mission is to act against the teachings of Jesus. As such, these two letters do not criticize the economic and political establishment of El Salvador in a direct manner; and to this extent they did not become controversial.
Archbishop Romero’s third letter, on the other hand, was blatantly political, in that it served as a call for solidarity among the peasant masses of El Salvador. Titled The Church and Popular Political Organizations it critiqued the dominant political parties for their failure in liberating the oppressed people of the region. It implored the poor to not hesitate in using force as a means of protecting themselves from government tyranny. The publication of this letter had alarmed and antagonized the government and business community and had made Archbishop Romero a target for assassination. His final letter, titled The Church’s Mission in the Nation’s Crisis is a moving piece of literature that continues his criticism of abuse of power and privilege. The resonance of Marxist ideology in this letter might have acted as the trigger point for his eventual assassination. (Brockman, 1988)
But what emerges from these four letters, is that Archbishop Romero was a man of deep compassion and cared profoundly for his fellow Christians. Where some other pastors and bishops would have kept silent, Archbishop Romero spoke out openly and fearlessly in support of the meekest in the country. While these virtues would eventually cost him his life, his worth and significance to the cause of poor Latin Americans cannot be overstated. Indeed, his legacy and the aura surrounding his life has only multiplied in the thirty years since his demise.
James R. Brockman, Pastoral Teaching of Archbishop Oscar Romero, SPIRITUALITY TODAY, Summer 1988, Vol.40 No. 2, pp. Retrieved from <http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/884022brockman.html>
Archbishop Oscar Romero (translated by Michael J. Walsh). Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements, published by Orbis Books, March 1985, ISBN-10: 0883445255