The canonization of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero took place as several thousand desperate Central Americans were moving in a caravan north towards the U.S.-Mexico border. As these unarmed people, mostly women and children, were literally walking to America, the president of the most powerful nation in world history was tweeting that they posed a dangerous threat to the United States. Romero, an unarmed man of God, was similarly depicted by his opponents as a potential terrorist, even though he had never sanctioned violence.
The people of the caravan are Oscar Romero’s people, the poor and the violated seeking safety and justice. They are the men, women, and children who are sometimes described as voiceless. Believe me, they have voices. It is we who don’t always have ears to hear what they say. A person like Romero was killed when he spoke for the poor because his voice could penetrate through the complacency of the comfortable.
Oscar Romero understood that the damned and despised of our world, the poor and the marginalized, can only win freedom if they can gain allies. He used his position in the church to align himself with the poor of Central America. He encouraged the dispossessed farm laborer and the domestic servant to speak up so that they might be heard beyond the confines of their slum. He told the poor that no matter how humble they were “we can all do something.”
As the caravan moves north, we see poor people doing what they can. They are sharing their meager resources with one another and sustaining each other with hope and encouragement as they walk. Moving slowly at just a couple of miles each hour, they have attracted more attention than the president in his flights around the United States in one of the most expensive planes in the world.
The president sows fear among his supporters about the danger he says is posed by these families in motion. It is not Russian meddling in next month’s election or the murderous proclivities of Saudi princes that should concern us, he tells his loyalists. It is the caravan of the poor. We can hear the people of the caravan speak to these lies on the nightly news, they have voices. But these are words that Trump’s supporters can never hear. For many of them, their ears hear only what is spoken from white lips. Their eyes can only see what is tweeted by tiny white fingers.
It is left to those of us who can hear the cry of the poor, as Oscar Romero said, to decide whether we stand on the side of the president or the saint. No one of good faith could confuse the two.