The late Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero died speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. In 1980, Romero was assassinated while offering Mass a day after delivering a sermon calling upon Salvadorian soldiers to stop violating human rights.
The Wesley community has been honoring Romero for many years with a chapel service and a lecture. Often this lecture and chapel are the first time Wesley students are learning about Romero.
Several faculty and speakers, past and present, clarify the reason and the history of this annual commemoration. Even more than the institutional history, many have found his story and witness so compelling that they have made it part of their personal formation.
“Romero—is a brother in Christ whose story is very significant for Christians in North and South America. In the chapel, we are not celebrating the life of a Catholic archbishop. Rather, we are honoring the life of a Christian martyr,” said former professor of teaching and formation, the Rev. Dr. Diedra Kriewald.
Kriewald notes many Protestant churches honor Catholic leaders and saints since most of the western churches ultimately came out of Catholicism.
“He was in a long line of Christian martyrs who died for helping the poor and marginalized against government, military and police corruption. Romero has a compelling Christian story that is well worth honoring,” she said.
“The Wesley community has been honoring Oscar Romero in chapel since shortly after the Rev. Dr. Harold Recinos joined the faculty in 1988,” Kriewald remembers. Recinos is Wesley’s former professor of theology, culture and urban ministry.
“Recinos took students to El Salvador, and I was on one of those amazing trips. We visited the open-air hospital altar where Romero was celebrating the Eucharist when he was shot to death from a car window. The Recinos/Romero story became an important part of my own continuing Christian formation,” said Kriewald.
Recinos, now a professor at Perkins Theological Seminary in Texas, is also the president of the Oscar Romero Center for Community Health and Education. Since the mid-1980s, Recinos has worked with the Salvadoran refugee community and with marginal communities in El Salvador for social justice. ORC seeks to positively impact the health, education and well-being of children and their families in North Texas and El Salvador.
“I also feel Romero is symbolic for other martyrs for the faith in Central and Latin America,” adds says Dr. Eileen Guenther. “So many have died in the service of the church and in support of the people—and when we remember his story and his death, we honor them as well.”
Guenther serves as Wesley’s professor of church music, co-director of the chapel and director of the chapel choir.
Distinguished Latino and Latina scholars and preachers usually give a sermon for Wesley’s Oscar Romero chapel service.
Last year’s program comprised the performance of the play, Rejoice and Mourn, directed by Professor Emerita Fredricka Berger. “I remember we often showed the movie, Romero, in conjunction with the date of his martyrdom,” says Kriewald. Whatever was planned has often been followed by a response or panel discussion from the faculty.
This year, Wesley alum, the Rev. Daniel Mejia-Munoz (M.Div. 2001), senior pastor of St. Matthews UMC in Bowie, Maryland, will deliver a sermon.
“Personally, Romero has been a constant influence in my life by the way he decided to be a Christian who deeply cared for the widows and orphans of his time and place,” he says. “At some point he made the courageous decision to stand up against the status quo in order to preach Jesus’ message of unadulterated love for all. I hope that in my own context I will be able to do the same.”
This year’s lecture will be two days after the chapel service.
Originally, the addition of the lecture grew out of a larger ongoing faculty-lecture series. The faculty wished to bring more attention to the life and work of Archbishop Romero and to the poor and marginalized of Central and South America.
At the time, Professor Emerita of New Testament the Rev. Dr. Sharon Ringe was involved in planning the faculty lectures. She also was deeply involved with missions in Central and South America and Latin American liberation theology. This included her serving as an adjunct professor at Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana in San José, Costa Rica and at the Seminario Evangélico Teológico in Matanzas, Cuba.
The Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado, who will deliver the lecture this year, spoke at Ringe’s retirement chapel [read more about Machado]. Machado was invited by Recinos to inaugurate the lecture series in 1992.
“Wesley’s mission is to educate people for Christian leadership so that truth is lived and proclaimed boldly in the public square. There have been many models of this Christian leadership during the long adventure of church history. But the life and ministry of Archbishop Oscar Romero is particularly instructive for our community,” explains the Rev. Dr. Robert K. Martin, dean and professor of Christian formation and leadership at Wesley.
“We study him because we can learn from him and emulate his conversion from church privilege to sacrificial compassion for the people. Just as he reflected God’s uncompromising love among poor and rich alike, we, in Christ’s name, can stand with the oppressed and speak truth to power. The Oscar Romero lecture and activities are catalysts for this conversion.”