The first of two Pope John Paul II movies aired last night, the next will air soon.
Amid what will continue to be the popularization of the recently deceased pope, I'll invite you to remember and reverance another name, a Roman Catholic who was much more of a hero than JPII.
His name was Oscar Romero. You can read more about him here.
The short version is, Romero labored as Archbishop in El Salvador during the John Negroponte days of death squads, disappearings, and military juntas. He was first thought of as a conservative, meaning he would obediently support the established order. But after observing the human rights violations of the U.S.-backed El Salvadorian regime, he began to take more of an assertive role in challenging the abuses and inequities of the Latin American country's government. He was gunned down for his troubles in 1980--IN A CHURCH, WHILE PERFORMING MASS no less--by militants affiliated with the dictatorial government.
His story is moving not only for the troubling intersection of human rights abuses and U.S. support for a corrupt, murderous regime, but also because the then new Pope, John Paul II, "scolded" Romero for allegedly advocating "liberation theology", conservative theology-speak for helping the poor and challenging inequitable corporatist government policies, particularly those involving land distribution.
So, when the poor Catholics of Latin America most needed him, the former Pope criticized their bishop and passively or directly, aligned himself with the most abusive of the region's regimes.
Fortunately, Romero's assassination helped draw attention to the abuses going on in El Salvador, served to highlight the U.S. role in that country, and Romero has been treated more favorably after his death by the Catholic hierarchy that spurned him while he was alive. But as we're invited to consider the life of JPII, remember instead, Oscar Romero, and how the Pope treated him and his people, and who the Pope aligned himself with. While JPII's backing of Solidarity in Poland is admirable, turning his back on Latin America was inexcusable.