Speaker hails Romero as model for 'church of the poor'
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Archbishop Oscar Romero was a prophet of the "new evangelization" - a church that places the well-being of the poor at the heart of every decision, said Jesuit Father Dean Brackley, a professor of moral theology at the University of Central America.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Jesuit Father Dean Brackley, a professor at the University of Central America in San Salvador since 1990, spoke on the legacy of Archbishop Oscar Romero Feb. 11 at Rockhurst University.
Father Brackley, who taught at New York's Fordham University until 1990 when he was called to replace one of the six Jesuit professors murdered at UCA in November 1989, gave a lecture entitled "Rays of Hope from the Land of Romero" Feb. 11 at Rockhurst University to start a year of remembrance on the life of Archbishop Romero during the 25th anniversary year of his assassination on March 25, 1980.
Special events also include a Dec. 2 lecture in Kansas City (at a site to be determined) by Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz, herself tortured as she worked as a missionary in Guatemala, to mark the 25th anniversary of the murders of missionaries Jean Donovan, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clark at the hands of the Salvadoran National Guard.
Other events include a Mass and Fiesta at 7 p.m. April 8 at Visitation Parish in Kansas City, a Nov. 5 workshop at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence entitled "Oscar A. Romero, the living legacy of a modern martyr," and continuing film and literary events, including opportunities for groups to screen the 1989 feature film, "Romero."
Sponsors for the year-long "Prophets of America" events are the Salvadoran Faith Accompaniment Committee, the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocesan Peace and Justice Office, the Kansas City, Kan., Archdiocesan Adult Faith Formation Office, the Social Justice Executive Committee of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, the Community of Christ and Rockhurst University.
Father Brackley told his audience of more than 100 that Archbishop Romero modeled a style of church governance that relied on consultation with the poor to determine the needs of the poor in El Salvador.
"That reality of the church of the poor that Romero embodied so well . . . was so powerful that it transformed the religious landscape of the entire region," Father Brackley said. "I would say that it is our (El Salvador's) most important export."
Father Brackley noted that Archbishop Romero wasn't the first to articulate the "preferential option for the poor" in which all government and church policy decisions are to be judged by their effects on the poor. But he was among the first champions of the option, even to the point of the loss of his own life.
"From the start, he appealed for help and advice from all quarters" even including the poor among teams of advisers who helped him prepare his homilies, Father Brackley said.
"His style of leadership was an expression of his fundamental option for the poor, and it gave meaning to the sacraments and to popular devotions," he said.
"Romero's prophetic ministry shaped a church of the poor," Father Brackley said. "The poor were his fundamental criterion in decision-making and for evaluating events."
Archbishop Romero's example of being a champion for the poor continued the reforms of Vatican II as "part of a historic recovery of the poor as the central mission of the church," Father Brackley said.
Archbishop Romero "proclaimed the reign of God and the fullness of life," he said.
"Romero lived and died for this fuller understanding of the Gospel," he said. "The church of the poor is the only church with the right to call itself Christian."
Father Brackley said that the U.S. bishops were as prophetic and as challenging when they issued their pastorals, "The Challenge of Peace," and "Economic Justice for All," in the 1980s, and recently challenged the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But what made Archbishop Romero's witness dangerous was his insistence on applying moral concepts to the reality of El Salvador, where a military regime was brutally oppressing the poor through terror.
"The rubber hit the road and the feathers started flying when he applied these concepts of a church of the poor to events in El Salvador," Father Brackley said.
Father Brackley said that the universal church's prophetic voice for the poor is needed now as much as it ever was during Archbishop Romero's life, as the poor are being oppressed and exploited by economic globalization that places corporate profit above the well-being of people.
"We have to globalize the practice of love. We have to globalize solidarity" with the poor, he said.
"If the church is not the instrument for doing that, I don't know how it will happen," Father Brackley said.