I first encountered Archbishop Oscar Romero when I lived in England and his image was included in a new set of sculptures for the West front of Westminster Abbey. The set of carvings (completed in time for the millennium year) was intended to immortalized twentieth-century martyrs. The ten martyrs chosen were both international and ecumenical in their scope.
On the recent martyrdom of twenty-one Coptic Christians in Libya Pope Francis spoke of “the ecumenism of blood." When lives are being sacrificed for Christ no one stops to ask what denomination a Christian happens to be. The same sentiment was expressed by the Baptist pastor Richard Wurmbrand in his classic book Tortured for Christ. The Romanian ex-Jew said in the communist prisons there were no Baptists, Catholics, Orthodox or Pentecostal. There were only brothers in Christ.
On the West front of Westminster Abbey Archbishop Romero stands alongside the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918; Manche Masemola, a South African teenager slain by her parents for converting to Christianity; St. Maximilian Kolbe; Lucian Tapiede, a Papuan New Guinea Anglican killed by the Japanese; Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor murdered by the Nazis; Esther John, a Presbyterian evangelist from Pakistan; Martin Luther King Jr.; Wang Zhiming. a Chinese pastor killed by the Communists; and Janani Luwum, an Anglican Archbishop murdered by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
These martyrs united by blood are perhaps more important as a global witness than ever before. In moving Archbishop Romero’s cause forward, Pope Francis stands with Romero and his brothers and sisters in martyrdom to affirm as strongly as ever that Christ the Lord and his church stand arm in arm with the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted and those who fight against evil.
However, Archbishop Romero, like Pope Francis, has been hijacked by ideologues on the Left — as if they are champions of a political ideology. Both Francis like Romero and the other modern martyrs commemorated in Westminster Abbey, transcend political allegiances and ideological causes. They are not “right wing” or “left wing." They are not “communist” or “fascist." They were disciples of Christ the Lord who stood up against injustice, cruelty, oppression and violence wherever it was found.
Archbishop Romero’s former secretary has spoken out recently about his friend and mentor. In an interview with Catholic News Agency, Msgr. Jesus Delgado has said that Romero’s murder “was in opposition to what he preached, which is what the Church asks of all: conversion to Jesus, a personal encounter with Jesus….he called for a personal encounter with Christ Jesus, which implied a preferential option for the poor, because Jesus opted for the poor to save us all.”
The biographer of Archbishop Romero lays to rest once and for all the idea that the martyr was a liberation theologian, Msgr. Delgado said “Obviously, the liberation theology proponents always visited him and left him their books. I saw them, and they were like brand new, he never even opened them. He never read them, he never looked at them. On the other hand, all the books of the fathers of the Church were worn and were the source of his inspiration.” The Archbishop’s friend and secretary continued, “Archbishop Romero knew nothing about Liberation Theology, he did not want to know about it. He adhered faithfully to the Catholic Church and to above all to the teachings of the Popes.”
Attempts have also been made to hijack Pope Francis for progressive causes. The efforts, however, will never succeed because like the martyrs commemorated in Westminster Abbey, and like Archbishop Romero, Pope Francis’ faith is deeper than any political or economic ideology. This is because his Catholic faith transcends all political or historical movements.