Oscar Romero stood with the marginalized. Christ does too.
This is why Pope Francis reminds us to ‘stay close to the people’ in our work for justice.
In the throes of the Salvadoran Civil War, St. Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered because he stood with his people against oppression. Prior to his death, most of his fellow bishops decried his efforts, accusing him of succumbing to popular pressure and becoming “politicized.” As Renny Golden detailed previously in U.S. Catholic, “The poor never expected him to take their side and the elites of church and state felt betrayed.”
We celebrate Romero’s feast day on March 24, and we can learn much from his commitment to living life attuned to the poor, as Jesus did, and from his willingness to call out the church when it failed to bear authentic witness to the Kingdom of God. As Catholics navigate contemporary culture wars in the United States, the theology of liberation espoused by Romero (among others) offers important insights.
Most readers will be familiar with the “preferential option for the poor,” which maintains that our social and political activity should prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Liberation theology expands this principle: because, Jesus said, we will meet Christ through encountering our marginalized brothers and sisters, the experiences of the oppressed are profoundly significant to the Spirit’s movement in history and should be affirmed and incorporated into our theological awareness. Those of us with privilege are called to radical accompaniment of those who have been marginalized—to hear their appeals for justice and to walk with them in their struggle for full participation in social, political, and ecclesial life.
In this light, as we attempt to respond faithfully to contemporary issues, we should prioritize the voices of those who experience poverty of influence. Insofar as Western social norms were developed according to a Christian framework—interpreted primarily through a white, male lens that deliberately excluded the influence of most others—the preferential option should inform Catholic responses to people whose personal pursuit of integrity appears at odds with these norms. Liberation theology highlights the need for humility as we encounter divergent views and an openness to the transformative grace experienced through them.