Last month, on Sunday, Oct. 14, the Church canonized two giants of the 20th century Church - St. Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero.
Most Catholics are familiar with Paul VI. He will be remembered as the pope who led the Church through the end of the Second Vatican Council and began its implementation in the worldwide Church. He will also be remembered for some of the most important, and controversial, writings of any Pope: "On the Development of Peoples," "Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life)," and for his efforts in bringing other Christian faiths together.
Perhaps less well knows is St. Oscar Romero. He was appointed archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, in 1977, during a period of widespread political violence, disappearances and human rights violations. At the time, Archbishop Romero was not considered an outspoken advocate for people who were poor and oppressed. While many clergy and religious spoke out on their behalf, Archbishop Romero did not.
Soon after becoming archbishop, Father Rutilio Grande, his friend and fellow priest, was killed because of his outward support for oppressed communities. This deeply affected Archbishop Romero, and he began to publicly denounce violence and injustice, urging people to live out Christ's Gospel message of love for neighbor. As Archbishop Romero began to speak up, people in villages across El Salvador tuned into his weekly radio homilies. He became an advocate for people who were poor - many called him the voice of the voiceless - and encouraged others to become advocates too.
He said, "We might be left without a radio station. God's best microphone is Christ, and Christ's best microphone is the Church, and the Church is all of you. Let each one of you, in your own job, in your own vocation ... live the faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God our Lord."
Archbishop Romero was such a loud microphone for God that he was assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980.
I had the blessed opportunity to be on a mission trip to El Salvador a few years ago. Not only was I able to pray at the tomb of Archbishop Romero, but I was also able to be present in the tiny quarters where he lived, and to see the old typewriter and tape recorder that he used for his homilies. I was also rendered breathless as I looked at the vestments that he wore when he was martyred - including the blood-stained cincture that Pope Francis wore during the Mass of Canonization.
But the experience that has stayed with me to this day is when I was able to kneel on the very spot in the sanctuary of the chapel of Hospital Divina Providencia where Romero died, struck down while he was saying Mass by an assassin's bullet. His killer (who, of course, the government never found) had shot him through the open doors of the chapel, undoubtedly to silence him for his support for the poor and the oppressed in El Salvador. As I touched the floor where he had lain, I prayed for the courage to speak out as he had, regardless of the consequences.
St. Oscar Romero's witness reminds us to not remain quietly on the sidelines, but to become microphones for God. He inspires us to speak out with our brothers and sisters who need help breaking down systems and structures that perpetuate poverty and suffering. People around the world continue to face oppression in many forms. It's up to us to be God's microphone by advocating on their behalf.