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by Christina Honchell

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

“This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.”

Thirty-five years ago today, Archbishop Oscar Romero finished the sermon that he was preaching for the funeral of a friend’s mother and stepped behind the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. A member of a right-wing death squad stepped into the long aisle of the chapel, raised his rifle and shot the archbishop through the heart, then disappeared into the sunshine with his driver and accomplice.

Oscar Romero was an unlikely candidate for martyrdom for most of his life. His spirituality was guided by the conservative Opus Dei movement, he was no fan of liberation theology nor was he seen as a force for change in the church through most of his career. But the tears he cried for personal friend and progressive Jesuit Rutilio Grande, who was killed for his commitment to organizing the poor and the oppressed of El Salvador, upon Grande’s assassination in 1977, changed the course of his life: “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path’.”

How can we measure all that has been seen through the eyes that cried over Oscar Romero’s murder? His death changed the course of the civil war in El Salvador and planted seeds of liberation from San Salvador to Los Angeles to Rome. My own religious awakening in the 1980s was a direct result of his witness, and I mark this, his feast day, every year with gratitude and solemnity. And tears.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis declared Oscar Romero a martyr, settling finally the question of whether he was murdered for his politics or his faith. In Romero’s home town, Ciudad Barriosk, churches blasted music and people set off fireworks upon the announcement, having lived for years thinking this would never happen. And in the joy released on those streets, and all over the world, new hope springs from the seeds planted on that bloody afternoon thirty-five years ago.

May we take a moment today to stop and give thanks for this holy life and for the future promise of peace planted by Saint Oscar Romero.

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