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“Sentire cum ecclesia” - Oscar Romero’s Decision
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
One of the main themes permeating the thought of St. Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia” also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church. It is necessary to cultivate this communion of shared devotion, affection and purpose in a very disciplined way, for not all aspects of the Church are lovable, just as we are not always lovable as individuals.
What did it mean for Oscar Romero to think with the Church? Romero's thinking with the Church went beyond intellectual assent to authoritative teaching. To think with the Church is not a matter of the head alone. It is a personal act of identification with the Church, the Body of Christ in history, sacrament of salvation in the world. To identify with the Church means to embrace its mission, the saving mission of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Reign of God to the poor. To think with the Church is an apostolic act.
The power of the Gospel is revealed in particular historical circumstances. In San Salvador in 1980, to think with the Church meant following the pastoral direction set forth by the Second Vatican Council in “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes,” by Blessed Paul VI in “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” and by the Latin American bishops at Medellin and Puebla. But there was more. “Sentire cum ecclesia: or thinking with the Church demanded discernment that was attentive to the particular circumstances of the local Catholic community and to the specific needs of Salvadoran society.
Oscar Romero maintained a lifelong devotion to the Vicar of Christ on earth. His devotion to the successors of Peter did not carry over to the Vatican's diplomats and bureaucrats. For Romero, to think with the Church meant not to think with "the powers of this world." Romero listened to them, talked with them, but refused to align himself with them. In an informal interview granted during the 1980 Puebla Conference in Mexico, Romero spoke of having the mind of the Church, he said: "St. Ignatius would present it today as a Church that the Holy Spirit is stirring up in our people, in our communities, a Church that means not only the teaching of the Magisterium, fidelity to the pope, but also service to this people and the discernment of the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel.” Through his life, ministry, and martyrdom, Oscar Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He laid down his life for his friends. Thirty-five years later, the Church confirms that Romeo made the right decision.