Transformation is possible. People can learn to see the world and the issues of their times in new ways. This is one of the great insights of the recently re-released Collector’s Edition of Romero from Paulist Productions. This was just in time for the October 14, 2018, canonization of Archbishop Romero.
Oscar Romero (played by Raul Julia) had been a middle-of-the-road, make-no-waves priest and bishop in the hot political environment of El Salvador. For this reason, he was a “safe choice” when they needed someone to be the Archbishop of San Salvador. A few ruling families tightly controlled the land and economy of the country. There was a communist guerilla movement, the FMLN, but there was also a growing protest movement from within the Church. Poor people were being kidnapped and killed or conscripted into militia groups. Many priests and religious called attention to these disappearances. One of them was Father Rutilio Grande, S.J (played by Richard Jordan). Grande’s protests lead to his assassination by a government death squad.
It was his death and the torture of several other priests that was a turning point for Archbishop Romero. He began to listen carefully and observe the plight of the people, especially the poor.This changed him. He began to see how the poor were caught between the rebels and the government militias. He saw the damage violence was doing to the people (everyone), the country and even the Church.
Romero started preaching boldly for an end to violence, for peaceful resolutions to address injustices and conflicts. As his public words grew more direct, he became a target. They accused him of being a communist (he was not). Eventually, in March of 1980, he was shot while saying Mass. Romero is revered as a beloved martyr. This prayerful, quiet, bookish man was transformed into a voice for peace, for respect for life and for justice.
At the time of his Beatification, Pope Francis wrote about Archbishop Romero:
In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church. His ministry was distinguished by particular attention to the most poor and marginalized. And at the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with the One who gave his life for his sheep.
Last week, Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P., of Paulist Productions, presented a copy of the film to Pope Francis in Rome.
The newly released film, Romero: Collector’s Edition, is available on DVD and download. It’s entertaining and, though it is 30 years old, seems relevant given the news from around the world today. It stands as one of the great saint movies of all time.
Images: Courtesy Paulist Productions, Family Theater Productions
Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions.