Church and religion
Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, Model Communicator, Patron of SIGNIS
Brussels, August, 15th, 2017 (SIGNIS). Just a few days after Archbishop Oscar Romero had been proclaimed Blessed, the Board of Directors of SIGNIS, during their meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in June 2015, decided by acclamation to designate him the patron of SIGNIS. It is most significant that the decision was reached in a meeting in the Caribbean –a part of the same SIGNIS region to which Archbishop Romero’s homeland, El Salvador, belongs–, by Directors of SIGNIS coming from all corners of the globe and representing all media. Romero’s ceaseless struggle for peace in his homeland and for justice in favor of the poor, who were the main victims of the political violence devastating the country, is the most important reason to consider him as a model communicator. Communication is, first and foremost, content, and it is at its best when it serves a just cause, standing for the destitute and the oppressed. Overcoming his own personal limitations –many had described him as timid and rather solitary– he responded to the call of God he heard in the oppressed by becoming the voice of the voiceless. It was a service, though, that he offered with great humility, warning against all paternalisms, even from the Church, as he insisted that the poor should not be just beneficiaries, but “actors and protagonists themselves of their struggle and liberation”. He devoted special attention to his most direct moment of communication: his Sunday homilies in the Cathedral, which he prepared together with his priests, taking also into account the information from the many letters and visitors he received. The homilies were broadcast through the radio station of the Archdiocese, YSAX, reaching all corners of the country with his bold denunciations of the violence exercised by both Government military forces and leftist armed groups. The Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero understood very well that the announcement of the Gospel went beyond denunciation, to being a witness of the Christian hope that he acknowledged in the poor and chose to live with and for them. It is a strong sign that we have chosen a martyr as patron. May he help us in SIGNIS to work tirelessly to further that future of peace, justice and reconciliation all humanity yearns for and he was a shining example of.
Archbishop Romero and the Media : A prophetic view
Brussels, August 14th, 2017 (SIGNIS). The assassination of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, on March 23, 1980, has not only to do with the defense of the poor and the oppressed, but also with the media and what he thought about those who controlled them. Romero became the voice of denunciation and especially the "voice of the voiceless". For him, every citizen should be respected and able to access the media. Romero underlined in his speeches that the media have a responsibility to serve humanity and to avoid becoming accomplices of those who oppress the people in not giving them a voice. In the 1970s, most media in his country, El Salvador, were in the hands of the powerful supporting the dictatorship, hostile to the poor or those defending their citizenship. El Salvador was ruled by military dictators since the 1930s, and during all of these years, the government tried to silence the people as well as the truth in the media. Most newspapers, radio stations and television services were in the hands of those who were favoring the dictatorship. It was difficult to find news and critical attitude towards the propaganda and the misinformation campaigns of the dictatorial regime. Those who were critical and fought for the truth did it at the cost of their life. In these circumstances, Archbishop Oscar Romero became the most credible source of information and news in the country. He saw it as a pastoral duty. Romero did not only denounce abuses in sermons during mass and in churches but also via the radio and the newspaper of the archdiocese. His talks were broadcasted every Sunday and were heard by most of the population. He rejected censorship and the “culture of silence”. He didn’t want to be silent about the persecution of priests, journalists, peasants and those who were militating for democracy. Each week, he was mentioning the names of those who were tortured, killed or had disappeared. He, as a real journalist, also reported on the violence and crimes of the rebels. As a result, he received a serious warning by the regime and its para militias: they bombed the archdiocesan radio station YSAX. In the three years preceding his death, YSAX was bombed ten times! On the day of his assassination, he was talking, in a sermon, about the injustice and the inhumanity of the regime and the rebels: about the torturing of a peasant and the rape of girl by the military but also about the torturing of a policeman by a revolutionary group. For Romero, misinformation, fake news, a culture of silence and propaganda were the worst things to serve the people. Author Jon Sobrino underlined in his biography Archbishop Romero: Memoires and Reflections the importance Romero gave to the media. He reminded the readers about Romero’s view on the media situation in El Salvador: “Truth is missing from our midst. Too many of us advertise a pen for hire and words for sale. The media are very manipulated, very manipulated. They distort the truth. Do not believe all you read in the papers, see on television, or hear on the radio”. He saw how the media were controlled by the powerful, oppress the poor. The peasants, the popular associations and the Church in his country had almost no access to the content of the media, not even in paid advertisements. Romero used the media to defend the truth. His opponents, in El Salvador and in the United States, used the media for defamation campaigns by saying that he was on the side of Marxists – which was, during those years, a death sentence. For instance, many manipulated the Pope’s speech in Puebla on February 18, 1978: according to the media, the Pope told the people and the faithful to obey the authority. In fact, he also said that it was the duty of the Church to denounce the abuses of power by that authority, but no reference was given about this part in the media. On July 22, 1979, Romero expressed his anger and powerlessness about this distortion of the truth: “who will pay for air time to show this other aspect of the Pope’s message? How nice it would be if, alongside their self-serving, paid notices accusing priests of taking a position on social matters, they paid for the publication of the Pope’s addresses at Oaxaca, Monterrey, and Santo Domingo, or the part of his encyclical where the holy father explicitly condemns precisely the abuses that the Church, and consequently we priest are conscience-bound to condemn.” For Sobrino, Romero had a prophetic view to see clearly and to denounce a society divided between “those who have too much voice (and who didn’t like his Voice) and those who have none (whose voice Romero wanted to be).