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The Political Dimension of the Faith

May 29, 2015 ·  By Archbishop Oscar Romero

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Archbishop

Blessed Martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero

He gave his life for the love of the poor and oppressed people why?

I wish to express my joy at being here to share with you my experience as Salvadoran pastor and my theological reflection as a teacher of the faith… I do not pretend to speak as an expert in political matters nor as a speculative theologian who would theoretically relate faith and politics. I am simply going to speak to you as a pas- tor, who together with his people, has learned the beautiful yet difficult truth: that Christian faith does not separate us from the world but rather sub- merges us in it; that the Church is not an elite but rather a follower of Jesus who lived, worked, struggled and died in the midst of the city, the “polis.”

Our Salvadoran world is not an abstraction. It is not just another example of what developed countries like yours understand by “world.” It is a world which, in its vast majority, is composed of poor and oppressed men and women. And it is the same world of the poor we say provides the key to understand the Christian faith, the performance of the Church, and the political dimension of that faith and the Church’s actions. The poor tell us what our world is like and what service the Church can render in it.

Incarnation in the World of the Poor

In the last years, our Archdiocese has been taking a direction in its pastoral activity which can only be described and understood as a return to the real and concrete world of the poor.
As in other places in Latin America, after many years and perhaps centuries, the words of Exodus have re- sounded in our ears: “So indeed the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Exodus 3:9)_By recognizing that these realities exist and then letting their impact reach us, we have been returned to the world of the poor and have found it to be our rightful place. Far from distancing us from our faith, these harsh realities have moved us to incarnate ourselves in the world of the poor.

In this world we have found the real faces of the poor of which Puebla speaks (31-39). There we found peasants without land or steady work, without water or electricity in their poor dwellings, without medical assistance when the women gave birth, and without schools when the children begin to grow. There we found workers with no labor rights, workers at the mercy of the economy’s cold calculations. There we found mothers and wives of the “disappeared” and political prisoners. There we met the people who live in hovels where misery exceeds the imagination, a permanent insult of the nearby mansions…

Proclaiming the Good News to the Poor

This encounter with the poor has enabled us to recover the central truth of the Gospel: the Word of God urges us to a conversion. The Church has Good News to announce to the poor. Those who have heard the bad news in a secular context and have lived even worse realities, are now listening through the Church, to the Word of Jesus: “The Reign of God is near,” “Happy are you poor, for the Reign of God is yours.” And then there is also Good News to announce to the rich: be converted to the poor and share with them the goods of the Kingdom.

It is a new phenomenon for the poor to view the Church today as a source of hope and support in the struggle for liberation. It is a call that comes from the Word of God to the majority poor, a call to awareness of their responsibility to be conscientized, to organize in a country that legally prohibits this or which makes it impossible to happen. It is also an endorsement, at times critical, of the poor’s just causes and rehabilitation. The hope which we preach to the poor is intended to return to them their dignity and to animate them to be the authors of their own destiny. In a word, the Church has not only turned to the poor, but has made the poor the privileged object of her mission. As Puebla has said: “God takes on their defense and loves them.” (1142)

Commitment to Defend the Poor

The Church has not only incarnated herself in the world of the poor and given them hope, but has also firmly committed herself to their defense. The poor of our country are daily oppressed and re- pressed by the economic and political structures. The terrible words of the prophets of Israel are still applicable in our country. In our midst there still exist those who sell the just person for money, the poor person for a pair of sandals; there are those who lay up violence and plunder in the palaces; there are those who crush the poor; there are those who promote a reign of violence as they lounge on their ivory beds; there are those who amass field after field until they end up owning the whole country.
These texts from the prophets Amos and Isaiah are not far-off voices of centuries ago; they are not just texts that we reverently read in our liturgies. They are daily realities whose cruelty and intensity we live on a daily basis. We live them when mothers and wives of the captured and disappeared come to us, when mutilated cadavers appear in clandestine cemeteries, when those who struggle for justice and peace are assassinated.

In this situation of conflict and antagonism, in which the few have economic and political control, the Church has put herself on the side of the poor and has assumed their defense. It cannot be other- wise; just remember the Jesus who was moved to compassion for the crowds. For defending the poor, the Church has entered into a grave conflict with the economic oligarchies, the political powers and the military of the state.

Persecuted for Serving the Poor

This defense of the poor in so conflictive a world has occasioned a new reality in the recent history of our Church: persecution. You certainly know the most important facts. In less than three years more than 50 priests have been attacked, threatened or calumniated. Six of them are martyrs: they died victims of assassination. Various others have been the object of persecution. The archdiocesan broadcasting station, Catholic-inspired educational institutions have been repeatedly attacked, threatened and intimidated by bombs. Various rectories have been ransacked.

If the most visible Church representatives have been treated thus, you can easily surmise what has happened to the simple Christian people, to peasants, to catechists and delegates of the Word, to basic ecclesial communities. It is here that the number of threatened, captured, tortured and assassinated reaches hundreds and thousands. It is the poor Christian people who are persecuted the most.
While it is clear that our Church has been the victim of persecution during the last three years, it is even more important to observe the reason for the persecution. It is not that just any priest or just any institution has been persecuted. It is that segment of the Church, which is on the side of the poor and has come out in their defense that has been persecuted and attacked. The persecution comes about because of the Church’s defense of the poor, for assuming the destiny of the poor.

The Political Dimension of the Faith

We are dealing with a true option for the poor. This means that the Church incarnates herself in the world of the poor, proclaims the Good News, gives hope, inspires a liberating praxis, defends the cause of the poor and participates in their destiny. This option for the poor is at the root of the political dimension of the faith and is its most fundamental characteristic. Because the Church has opted for the poor (the true poor and not the fictitious poor), and has opted for the truly oppressed and repressed, the Church lives in the world of the political sphere and realizes itself as Church through the political. It cannot be any other way if, as Jesus, the Church is to go out to the poor.

The Fruits of Sin are Death

Thus it is not mere routine that once again we denounce the existence of a structure of sin in our country. It is sinful because it produces the fruits of sin: the death of Salvadorans – the rapid death of repression or the slow death (but no less real) of structural oppression. For that reason, we have denounced the idolatry that exists in our country. Wealth is made a god, private property is absolutized by the capitalist system, national security is made the highest good by the political powers who institutionalize the insecurity of the individual (Pastoral Letter, 1979, 43-48).

The world of the poor, with its social and political characteristics, teaches us where the Church must incarnate herself in order to avoid that false universalization which always ends up in a connivance with the powerful. The world of the poor teaches us how Christian love should be. It should certainly seek peace, but unmask false pacifisms, resignation and inactivity. It should certainly be free but must seek historical efficacy. The world of the poor teaches us that the magnanimity of Christian love must respond to the demand of justice for the majorities and not flee from the honest struggle. The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will occur not only when the poor become recipients of government or Church benefits but when they themselves become authors and protagonists of their struggle and their liberation, thus unmasking the ultimate root of false paternalisms – even ecclesial ones.

To Affirm Life or to Serve Death

Incarnation in the sociopolitical world is the place to deepen our faith in God and in His Christ. We believe in Jesus who came to bring life in its fullest and we believe in a living God who gives life to human kind and wants all to live in truth. These radical truths of the faith become truths – radical truths – when the Church inserts herself in the midst of the life and death of the people. It is there that the Church is presented (as it is presented to every person) with the most fundamental option of faith: to be in favor of life or in favor of death. There is no doubt whatsoever that here there is no room for neutrality. We are either at the service of the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. And it is here that we are faced with the most fundamental reality of the historical mediation of faith: either we believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.

We believe with the apostle John that Jesus is “the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1), and that where there is life, there God reveals himself. Where the poor begin to live, where the poor begin to liberate themselves, where men and women are able to sit down around a common table and share, there is the God of life. That is why when the Church inserts itself in the sociopolitical world in order to cooperate in bringing about the emergence of life for the poor, she is not undertaking a mere subsidiary task or something outside of her mission, but is witnessing to her faith in God and is being an instrument of the Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life.

This faith in the God of Life is what explains the depth of the Christian mystery. To give life to the poor, one must give from his own life, indeed give even his own life. The greatest sign of faith in a God of life is the witness of a person willing to surrender his own life. “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

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