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25 March 2013

Response to a Comment: Is Romero a Martyr?

A reader comments (and questions):
I look to the Archbishop as a contemporary witness to Christ crucified, risen and ascended. I've struggled with calling him a martyr in the sense the Church uses the term as applied to people like Sts. Peter and Paul, St Stanislaus, and St Thomas Becket. Saint he is. But is he martyr in this way?

A really good question.  I think it's unfair to answer without thinking, "yes," for a few reasons.  The most important reason, at least for my money, is that a question about an ostensibly important figure deserves evenhanded consideration, free from hyperbole (insofar as it is possible).

And thus, with a deep breath, I say that, "yes," Oscar Romero is a martyr, but not in the particular way in which we think of other martyrs.  (Call it a both/and moment.)  In other words, it seems as if Romero is a martyr of a different sort, a saint of the twentieth century, in the same way, that say, Dominic, Francis and Igantius were saints of their own historical moments.

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True, Romero's martyrdom does not share the same character as the early confessional martyrs, nor the form of those raised to the altars for death in the missionary fields.  In this sense, Romero's life may only be drawn in ultimate analogue with the men mentioned above (Peter, Paul, Stanislaus and Becket).  Nevertheless, I think a few points may be posed in response to this assertion:

  1. Romero acted in a way particular to his historical circumstances, in much the same way Maximilian Kolbe did in his.  Romero's actions, of course, take on a different character than did Kolbe's, yet in an abstracted way, as historical figures, both of these men acted in a way according to their own historical epochs.  
  2. Romero's method of death, murder during his celebration of the Eucharist, speaks of a certain religious character on his own part, as well as on the parts of those who killed him.  Cinematic depictions aside (Romero did not die while raising the host), Romero's murder during mass does bear a particularly Christic character.  Moreover, his murder by men during the liturgy must, at least in some senses, have borne upon the men who committed the act insofar as they killed Romero while he acted in the person of the Christ the Head.
  3. Romero's words and actions on behalf of the poor are what we may surmise as precipitating the violent action against him.  Because of this, Romero's martyrdom can be described as mediated.  While the more traditional martyrdom took place largely due to a confessional stance (refusal to renounce Christ), Romero's took place precisely because he refused to abandon the cause of Christ's people.  
While the death of Oscar Romero does not fit the traditional categories of martyrdom, it seems to me that the ultimate qualification for this title revolves around one's willingness to die for Christ in the face of evil.  If my definition as constructed is accepted, it seems to me as if Romero fits the bill.

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