This morning Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, who was Archbishop Óscar Romero's vicar general, died in El Salvador at the age of ninety. In 1990, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Romero's murder, Urioste spoke about him at the Jesuits' Central America University in San Salvador. His talk was later translated by Gene Palumbo and published in Commonweal under the title "Reviving the Truth, Making It Heard: The life & death of Óscar Romero." Urioste was not only Romero's vicar general but also one of his closest collaborators. According to Urioste, Romero was a martyr because he was first of all a prophet—that is, someone "whose very existence is a sign, and who lives the values of the Kingdom in his or her personal and community life"; someone "who carries on in faith, in spite of all misunderstandings."

The prophets are those who speak of the eternal things, as they apply at the moment. The prophet always speaks of God and of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The prophet speaks of respect for life, and that is older than the first page of the Bible. The prophet, then, in a certain sense is the great conservative, the one who wants to conserve the great values that God has given us.

Archbishop Romero spoke like this, and when he did he was accused of getting involved in politics. There’s nothing that makes me think more of how unjust and stupid people can be. He spoke out about all the people who had been tortured, massacred, and hurled into rivers. That isn’t getting involved in politics; that is speaking of the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Every prophet, every bishop, every priest is obliged to speak out like that. The prophet is the one who is faithful to God, who says, God is asking this of me, and I’m going to do it, while others say, “Who knows, this could be dangerous, and you know, you’ve got to be prudent.”

We speak a lot about the virtue of prudence, but not so much about the virtues of fortitude and justice. The prophet is imprudent because God was imprudent, because Jesus was imprudent. Because if our Lord hadn’t said what he said, they wouldn’t have crucified him, either. As a prophet, Archbishop Romero was able to cleanse the language. He revived the truth, made it heard, and many believe that is why he was killed. The truth, in countries like ours, will always have such consequences. There were those who couldn’t tolerate the truth Archbishop Romero proclaimed, just as there were those who couldn’t tolerate the truth that Jesus proclaimed.

Ricardo Urioste, requiescat in pace.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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