Last Thursday I took part in a service of remembrance in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the priest who was assasinated while saying Mass for his church in El Salvador on March 24, 1980.
Today I have reflected on the life, thought and impact of Pope John Paul II at the time of his death.
During my years in New Orleans, I studied Romero's preaching and writing because of my concern and interest in the horrific civil war that ravaged El Salvador at the time. The worst was yet to come and did in the early 1980s. I continued reading Romero who carefully, prophetically and artfully applied the radical message of Jesus to the concrete realities of our world.
Romero tried to tell us that we were on the wrong side of the conflict.
President Carter ignored his pleas for peace and support, instead sending military aid to the oppressive government of El Salvador. President Reagan escalated the support and the conflict.
By 1984, over 50,000 men, women and children had perished in the wars in El Salvador and Guatemala--wars in which U. S. supported the rich and the powerful against the interests of the peasant farmers who simply wanted equitable land reform so that they could provide for their families.
Romero was pro-life and pro-justice and pro-Jesus. Romero moved to the margins of his society to be among and for the poor. His suffering he understood as being a part of the crucifixion of the people that he loved and pastored so well.
Romero once said, "A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth—beware!—is not the true church of Jesus Christ" (March 11, 1979).
John Paul II led the Catholic church for 26 years. No matter what your opinions about his theology and teachings, the first non-Italian Pope in over five centuries, led with steadfast resolve, startling courage and a joyful, hopeful, humble kindness.
John Paul's pro-life posture offended many. None could accuse him of being inconsistent. He spoke out strongly against abortion and stem cell research. He also spoke against war, capital punishment, hunger, political oppression and injustice.
This Pope ended Communism in Europe. This Pope challenged the materialism of the capitalism of the West. This Pope sought to be a reconciler of people and nations--all people and all nations. He lectured our current President about the war in Iraq, calling it unjust. He reached out to Fiedel Castro, but challenged him about the repression and suffering of the Cuban people.
Both of these leaders lived amazing lives and served their people and their callings in remarkable ways.
Both preached, wrote and taught to encourage and champion justice, fairness and hope. Both cared about the earth and all of its people in radical ways.
Today the vision of Romero and John Paul II have yet to be realized.
The American church, especially Protestant Evangelicals whom I know best, need to be still. A period of quiet reflection and serious study of the writings and the work of these two spiritual giants would serve this part of the church in the United States very well it seems to me.