Films are an important feature of popular culture but can they also be a vehicle for theological enquiry? Veritas thinks they can! Every month during the Year of Faith, we offer a Film of the Month, which we invite you to watch, reflect on and discuss. As an initiative for the Year of Faith, you might like to start a Year of Faith Film Club in your work, school or parish community, where these films can be discussed and shared. Film reviews are kindly provided by Fr John-Paul Sheridan PhD.
Film of the Month for July: Romero
|In May 2013 Pope Francis met with the President of El Salvador, Maurico Funes. The news services were full of the news that the president had appealed to the Pope for the beatification of Óscar Romero, the slain Bishop of San Salvador, who is the subject of this month’s film. Only nine years after the killing of Romero, a film was released telling the story of the archbishop. It starred Raúl Juliá as the Romero, was written by John Sacret Young and directed by John Duignan. The film focuses on the Romero’s speaking out against the death squads and the campaign of terror operated by the right-wing US backed government, and it culminates in his assassination in March 1980. It was the first feature film from the Paulist Fathers film company, Paulist Pictures. While the film was well-received, it failed to win any major awards. Film critic Roger Ebert said:
The film has a good heart, and the Julia performance is an interesting one, restrained and considered. His Romero is not a firebrand but a reasonable man who cannot deny the evidence of his eyes and his conscience. The film’s weakness is a certain implacable predictability: we can feel at every moment what must happen next, and the over-all trajectory of the film seems ordained even in the first few shots. As a result, the film doesn’t stir many passions, and it seems more sorrowing than angry. Romero was a good man, he did what his heart told him to do and he died for his virtues. It is a story told every day in Latin America.
||By the 1970s, El Salvador was governed by a right-wing, American-backed oligarchy. Most of the rest of the country was poverty stricken with few, apart from some in the Catholic Church, in solidarity with them. In the maintenance of the power of the right-wing government and subsequently a military junta, there was a general atmosphere of terror, with death squads carrying out assassinations, tortures and disappearances. In the midst of this political chaos and overall horror, Pope Paul VI appointed Óscar Romero as Archbishop of San Salvador. Conservative in his theology, the ruling classes thought that the new archbishop would keep the masses quiet and Marxist priests in check. Initially Romero stayed out of politics. However with the death of a close friend and his realisation of the savagery that had become the everyday life of the people of El Salvador, he began to speak out, in particular in his radio messages. With the beginning of the civil war in El Salvador, Romero was caught between support for the Marxist rebels, support for the government so that his own life might be saved, and finding a middle group in order to follow the non-violent path. The war lasted from 1979 to 1992, ending with an United Nations-backed peace accord. The UN estimated that 75,000 were killed in the conflict, including Romero, who was assassinated while celebrating mass in March 1980.
Archbishop Óscar Romero
Romero was born in 1917 into a family of five brothers and two sisters. He came from a modest background: his father was a carpenter and thought that his son would follow him into the trade. Romero entered the minor seminary at age thirteen before advancing to the major seminary in San Salvador. He completed his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained in 1942. On his return from Rome, he worked as a parish priest and was then appointed rector of the seminary in San Salvador. In 1970 he was made Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador and succeeded as Archbishop in 1977.
Romero was seen as a conservative ‘safe’ pair of hands to the ruling classes and his appointment was viewed with dismay by many priests who had begun to espouse Liberation Theology. The death of his friend, the Jesuit Rutilo Grande, seemed to have a profound effect on Romero and his requests for an investigation into the murder were ignored by the authorities. In 1979 the revolutionary junta took power in El Salvador, and Romero continued to be vocal about the human rights abuses, the assistance of the United States government to El Salvador and the persecution of the members of the Catholic Church who worked with the poor and marginalised. At his acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate from the University of Louvain in 1980 he stated:
|In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs – they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands … But it is important to note why the Church has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the Church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defence. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the Church: the poor.
Romero was shot while saying Mass in the chapel of a hospital on 24 March 1980, less than a month after he travelled to Louvain and met with Blessed John Paul II. The day before his death he had called on soldiers, who considered themselves Christians, to stop carrying out the orders of the unjust regime. He was shot during the consecration of the Mass. His funeral took place under the gaze of the world’s media. This didn’t dissuade some (identified by some witnesses as government forces) from throwing smoke bombs into the crowd, and shots rang out from surrounding buildings. No one was ever convicted for the killing of Romero, although many saw it as the work of members of the death squad under the leadership of Major Roberto D’Aubuisson. In 2010 the President of El Salvador offered an official State apology for the assassination to a gathering of Romero’s family and members of the Catholic Church, the Diplomatic Corps and government of El Salvador.
For questions for reflection on Romero, please click here.
Other Points and Further Reading
- James R. Brockman SJ, The Word Remains: A Life of Óscar Romero (Orbis, 1982)
- James R. Brockman SJ, The Church is All of You: Thoughts of Archbishop Óscar Romero (Winston, 1984) Óscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love (Orbis 2004)
- Óscar A. Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements (Orbis 1985)
- The Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador
A Prayer of Óscar Romero
Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
While it is important to remember Archbishop Romero, we should not forget the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter who were murdered in El Salvador on 16 November 1989. Their names are:
- Fr Ignacio Ellacuría SJ
- Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ
- Segundo Montes SJ
- Juan Ramón Moreno SJ
- Joaquín López y López SJ
- Amando López SJ
- Elba Ramos
- Celina Ramos
We remember the three American religious and an American lay missionary who were beaten, raped and murdered in El Salvador in December 1980. Their names are:
- Sr Maura Clarke MM
- Sr Ita Ford MM
- Sr Dorothy Kazel OSU
- Jean Donovan
… or the more than 75,000 people killed in the civil war in El Salvador from 1979–92.
Previous Films of the Month:
June 2013: No Greater Love
May 2013: The Way
April 2013: Freedom Writers
March 2013: Of Gods and Men
February 2013: Song of Bernadette
January 2013: Brother Sun, Sister Moon
December 2012: It’s a Wonderful Life!
November 2012: Shadowlands
October 2012: The Mission