Living towards a future not our own

By Simon Barrow
March 24, 2011

Today is the 31st anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down on 24 March 1980 by a government-backed death squad, while he was saying Mass in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

Romero was a remarkable and brave champion of the poor. But his background was not in the least radical. Far from it. It was exposure to the reality and human cost of injustice that converted him to an understanding of the Gospel that has peace and justice at his core.

He has inspired millions of people - Catholic and otherwise, religious and non-religious, across the world.

Perhaps my favourite contemporary prayer is one penned by Archbishop Romero. It is realistic, honest, faithful and hopeful all at once:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

More information about ongoing work in the spirit and memory of Archbishop Romero can be gleaned from the Romero Trust:

Fr Juan Hernandez Pico is giving the Archbishop Romero Lecture 2011 at 7pm on 24 March at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle, and at 11am on Saturday 26 March at St Martins-in-the-Field, as part of an ecumenical service. The theme is 'Romero and the Social Gospel: the challenge for us today'. Many participants will be going on to join the anti-cuts 'March for the Alternative' ( in London that day, making the link between the domestic and local struggle against poverty and injustice.

Also on Ekklesia: 'Spirituality and politics: Oscar Romero's legacy', by Savi Hensman -


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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