When Father Elwood (Bud) Kieser, CSP first produced the film about Archbishop Oscar Romero back in 1989, his story was fresh in the minds of the El Salvadorian people. Yet through the power of the big screen it became a story for the world to reflect on the plight of those who are oppressed and made to live in poverty. It is the story for justice, respect, and human dignity.
Twenty-nine years later, the film is as powerful as ever. Paulist Productions director, Father Tom Gibbons, CSP, says that this film, “depicts what it means to go outside of our comfort zones.” He continues, “Romero did this and found himself pulled between two worlds but was rejected for it.” Where there were ideological, social, political and economic tribes, Romero became the bridge for bringing people together. He is truly a person for our time since those divides are very much present in our society and around the world today.
When Pope Francis canonized St. Oscar Romero along with St. Paul VI and several others in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on October 14, 2018, his papal emphasis of care for the poor and those most marginalized came through. These two giants of faith stood up for those who were suffering or marginalized especially at a time when others would not. They had the courage to be that counter-cultural witness even in the midst of criticism and death.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was appointed the fourth prelate of San Salvador in 1977. A bookish scholar, he was not only surprised by this appointment but found himself to be inadequate to deal with the tensions mounting in his country and even among his priests. The Jesuit community, headed by social activist Father Rutilio Grande, portrayed in the film by Richard Jordan, initiated an understanding of liberation theology that put people’s basic needs to the forefront of an unjust and oppressive socio-political system. Raúl Juliá brilliantly portrays Romero as a stoic, yet timid character forced against his will to take a stand and encouraged by his friend, Father Grande, both of whom were martyred for taking a stand against a powerful regime. Though not a proponent of liberation theology, Romero became that guide for people to stay with the Church, according to her teachings of love, solidarity, and nonviolence.
Fr. Tom Gibbons, CSP, Director of Paulist Productions with the Pauline Sisters
At the LA Premiere of the re-mastered film, Ana Grande, niece of Father Rutilio Grande shares how emotional it was for her to watch this film in HD quality. She says she exists because both her father and his brother, Father Grande, were receiving death threats. At the urging of his brother, her father migrated to the US where he met his wife. Ana says that while she never met Romero or Father Grande, “they have been my guardian angels.” As Assistant Dean and professor of Catholic Social Teaching at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, she seeks to educate the younger generation about giving people a voice, “just as Romero became the voice of the people.” “Romero,” she exclaims, “is an example for any era.” Truly, his story seems more appropo now than ever in a world that is polarized by social and political factions.
Pope Francis in his message at the canonization mass expresses the overall gift of Oscar Romero to the Church when he says, “there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.” This sums up the enduring power the film has for the Church today and for all time. Romero stands as that bridge, representing the Church who endures despite the violence and sin that overwhelms her members. She is the foundation that Jesus built upon Peter and his successors. The Church is Christ and films like Romero show us how some heroic members concretely live and die as lovers of Christ and the Church.
For more information about the DVD, please visit www.romerofilm.org