In 2011, I went for the third time to La Providencia Chapel where St. Oscar Romero was killed. Our guide, a Catholic sister, invited the group composed of Methodist pastors from the US, Mexico, and El Salvador, and two professors from Duke, to take our shoes off and make a circle around the altar and the Communion table where Romero was killed. Then, she explained to us that the view we had was the same view Romero had the day he was killed.
She continued telling us that it is believed that the killer arrived in a car and parked right in front of the door of the chapel. For a period of five minutes, he pretended there was something wrong with the car and that he was trying to fix it. Then, he went back to the car, got the weapon and killed Romero. The sister said that there is a high possibility that Romero saw his killer, but he did not do anything about it; he offered his life to the Lord and the people of El Salvador.
In March of this year, I was at La Providencia Chapel again with a group of students, and I had the opportunity to lead a time of reflection by reading the last sermon St. Romero preached. This was the last paragraph:
This holy Mass, the Eucharist, is itself an act of faith. With Christian faith, we know that at this moment, the wheaten host is changed into the body of the Lord who offered himself for the world’s redemption, and in that chalice, the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain—like Christ, not for self, but to impart notions of justice and peace to our people. Let us, then, join together intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and for ourselves.
[At this moment, the fatal shot struck Archbishop Romero, and he fell mortally wounded.]
I was reminded of the time the Catholic sister led us in reflection, and how she pointed out that, it is very likely the St. Romero had the time to see his killer, so it became clear to me that when he was pronouncing the previous words, it is very likely he was directing them to his killer. St. Romero’s last words were a challenge to the Church then to become instruments of justice and peace.
I was also reminded of how the sister invited us to close our eyes, and challenged us with the following questions, which I now share with you and invite you to reflect on them as we observe Holy Week this year: “What are you willing to do for the sake of the Gospel? What are you willing to give up for God and God’s people?” Romero’s legacy inspired this Catholic woman to challenge a group of Protestant pastors and theologians to live out the Gospel radically.
May this Holy Week be an opportunity for us to identify the ways in which we might need to die to ourselves, so that we may become instruments of justice and hope. May this Holy Week be an opportunity for us to lead in St. Romero’s way: with humility, with sacrifice, with willingness to suffer for the sake of others, but overall, with love. Amen.
A Prayer Inspired by St Oscar Romero:
Almighty God, help us, just like St. Romero,
to follow the guidelines of Jesus’ example of humility, sacrifice, suffering, and love
as we seek to grow in our knowledge and love for you this Holy Week.
And, as our love for you grows,
may the power of your Holy Spirit grant us
courage and boldness to love one another not only by word,
but especially with our actions.
May we live out your desire for us
to show the world that we are your disciples by our love—
our love in action. Amen.
From the NC Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Immigration Alliance
To become aware this week:
Discover ministries already in place and find churches/organizations already serving the Hispanic community.
To cultivate growth this week:
Collaborate with a local immigrant organization to host a community event that offers learning, exposure, and growth in cultural competencies.
To advocate this week:
Mobilize neighboring congregations to respond to the harsh actions seen in our communities.
Ismael Ruiz-Millán is an elder in the North Carolina Conference currently serving as Director of the Hispanic House of Studies, Global Education & Intercultural Formation at Duke Divinity School.